Employees are more prone to mistakes on afternoons and Fridays

Study offers objective insight on employee behavior and the potential benefits of flexible work arrangements.

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Alternative work arrangements have arisen as promising options for increasing productivity and achieving a better work-life balance. However, reliable and objective measurement of work patterns is required before making decisions regarding rearranging work.

A new study by the Texas A&M School of Public Health examines variations in work patterns across days of the week using daily computer usage metrics of office-based workers. It found that employees are less active and more prone to mistakes on afternoons and Fridays, with Friday afternoons representing the lowest point of worker productivity.

The researchers examined the computer usage metrics of 789 in-office employees at a prominent Texas energy business from January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2018.

Mark Benden from the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health said, “Most studies of worker productivity use employee self-reports, supervisory evaluations, or wearable technology, but these can be subjective and invasive. Instead, we used computer usage metrics like typing speed, typing errors, and mouse activity to get objective, noninvasive data on computer work patterns.”

Scientists then compared computer usage patterns across different days of the week and times of the day to see what kinds of patterns emerged.

Drs. Taehyun Roh, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, said, “We found that computer use increased during the week, then dropped significantly on Fridays. People typed more words and had more mouse movement, mouse clicks, and scrolls every day from Monday through Thursday, then less of this activity on Friday.”

“Computer use decreased every afternoon, especially on Friday afternoons.”

“Employees were less active in the afternoons and made more typos in the afternoons—especially on Fridays. This aligns with similar findings: the number of tasks workers complete increases steadily from Monday through Wednesday, then decreases on Thursday and Friday.”

What are the implications for employers? To begin, flexible work schedules, such as hybrid work or a four-day work week, may result in happier and more productive employees.

By May 2023, around 60% of full-time, paid employees in the United States worked exclusively on-site. The remaining employees either worked remotely or in a hybrid arrangement that included remote and on-site labor. Furthermore, many employees have a compressed workweek, meaning they work larger hours on fewer days.

Benden said, “Other studies have found that those who work from home or work fewer days have less stress from commuting, workplace politics, and other factors, and thus have more job satisfaction. These arrangements give workers more time with their families and thus reduce work-family conflicts, and also give them more time for exercise and leisure activities, which have been shown to improve both physical and mental health.”

“Not only that, but flexible work arrangements could boost the bottom line in other ways, such as reductions in electricity use, carbon footprint, and carbon dioxide emissions.”

“And now, the findings from our study can further help business leaders as they identify strategies to optimize work performance and workplace sustainability.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Taehyun Roh, Chukwuemeka Esomonu et al. Examining workweek variations in computer usage patterns: An application of ergonomic monitoring software. PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0287976
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