How Much of Our Workdays Do We Spend Communicating?

communication office2

Think about a typical morning at work. Coffee in hand, you greet your colleagues as you head to your office, where the first thing you do is read through emails, replying to anything urgent. You think through your to-do list for the day, then send off a few more emails delegating certain tasks and requesting resources or help with other initiatives. You type out a quick IM to one coworker to set up a meeting about a project you’re working on together. Then you pick up the phone to check in with another coworker on the status of some research he was supposed to send you last week. Suddenly it’s 11:00 and time for the weekly department meeting.

It all sounds plausible, right?

You know you spend a significant portion of your working hours communicating in one way or another, but have you ever stopped to calculate exactly how significant a portion? Studies from McKinsey Global Institute, International Data Corporation, and the Journal of Communication have done it for you. The highlight of their findings:

Leaders spend about 80% of their workdays communicating


How do you get to 80 percent?

That’s a huge part of the day. But when you reflect on a typical day at the office, you recognize that communicating takes many forms. All that communication is divided among several channels, including emails, phone calls, group meetings, one-on-one conversations, and company-wide presentations. Here are some findings, from a variety of sources, on how all that communication breaks down:

  • 28 percent: the portion of each work day dedicated to reading and responding to emails
  • 26 percent: the portion of each work day the typical Fortune 500 CEO spends on the phone.
  • 50 percent: the portion of a senior manager’s typical workday dedicated to meetings. (The same research finds that organizations spend 15 percent of their collective time in meetings.)

Add this to the impromptu conversations with coworkers and employees, the companywide presentations, and the external speaking engagements that leaders juggle, and it’s a wonder they — or anyone else in the office — ever have time to get their “real work” done.

Of course, every company is different, and no two surveys will turn up the same results. But these examples show just how much time our leaders spend communicating.

What is the cost of poor communications?

So just how critical is all this communication? Well, we know that businesses as small as 100 employees spend, on average, 17 hours a week clarifying previous communication, which translates to an annual cost of at least $525,000. We can safely assume that, as company size increases, so does the expense. To say nothing of the role of communication in reputation or relationship building. As the research demonstrates, there is a clear connection between effective communication and a company’s bottom line.

But we don’t just communicate while we’re at work. The sheer frequency of communication isn’t limited to leaders — we spend a considerate portion of our personal lives communicating as well. And as it goes in our professional lives, so it goes at home. Those communications can have a significant impact on our relationships.

How much of this communication happens on a subconscious level?

Here’s the other news that may surprise you. If you are a typical human, you are only aware of 5 to 15 percent of the communication signals you are sending at any given time. The number is jarring, but when you stop and think about it, you can start to see how it’s possible. Think back to the last time you got into an argument because someone took something you said “the wrong way.” Maybe your intended message was innocuous, but your tone made you sound impatient or condescending.

Every inflection in our voices, every flick of our eyes is a signal — and, more often than not, those signals are unconscious. As a leader, it’s critical to realize that these signals are playing a huge part in shaping the message you’re sending to employees, investors, and customers.

If communication is our primary activity in the workplace, how can we make sure we’re doing it right?

Did you ever ask a friend to point out every time you said the word “like,” in an effort to break the habit? Have you ever found yourself sitting through a presentation, making tally marks every time the speaker let an “um” slip out? If so, you know how much effort it takes to pay attention to just one habit.

But the key to ensuring stellar communication — in day-to-day interactions as well as special engagements —is to make ourselves aware of all our habits. That means recognizing and controlling the 90 to 95 percent of unconscious signals we’re sending.

If you try keeping track of all that yourself, you won’t be able to focus on anything else, including the message you’re trying to send. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. Recent developments in technology, communication science, and data analytics have empowered professionals to identify (and, if need be, correct) every single hidden communication habit through objective, data-driven measurement and tracking of their most important written and spoken engagements.

eBook-Cover-SCIENCE.pngOur newest e-book, How Science is Shaping the Future of Communication, explores the technologies that have led to this new frontier of objective measurement, and you can experience those measurements in action through some of our recent blog posts, including, “Let’s Be Clear,” and “Why Do We Fear Public Speaking?


Interested in learning more? Email us at to discuss how communication analytics can empower your organization to produce world class communications.