Optimal Hours with the Boss

Leadership IQ studied more than 32,000 employees to discover precisely how many hours per week employees should be interacting with their boss...

The research team at Leadership IQ surveyed 32,410 American and Canadian executives, managers and employees about these two big questions:
How many hours per week DO people spend interacting with their direct leader?
And, how many hours per week SHOULD people spend interacting with their direct leader?

Here’s what we found: Nearly half of people spend 3 or fewer hours per week interacting with their direct leader. In fact, 20% of people spend just 1 hour per week interacting with their direct leader. By contrast, fewer than 30% of people spend 6 or more hours per week interacting with their direct leader.

The median time people spend interacting with their leader is 3 hours. But 3 hours spent per week interacting with one’s leader is not enough. For the 32,410 people in this study, the optimal amount of time to spend interacting with one’s leader is 6 hours.

  • People who spend 6 hours per week interacting with their leader are 29% more inspired than people who only spend 1 hour per week interacting with their leader.
  • People who spend 6 hours per week interacting with their leader are 30% more engaged than people who only spend 1 hour per week interacting with their leader.
  • People who spend 6 hours per week interacting with their leader are 16% more innovative than people who only spend 1 hour per week interacting with their leader.
  • People who spend 6 hours per week interacting with their leader are 15% more intrinsically motivated than people who only spend 1 hour per week interacting with their leader.

We also discovered that managers and executives need even more time interacting with their leaders than frontline employees.  

  • Executives experienced their highest levels of inspiration when they spend 7-8 hours per week interacting with their leader.  
  • Middle managers felt their highest levels of inspiration when they spend 9-10 hours per week interacting with their leader.

STUDY METHODOLOGY
From January-May, 2014, Leadership IQ surveyed 32,410 American and Canadian executives, managers and employees about dozens of aspects of leadership and organizational life. Respondents were invited to complete an online assessment comprised of 127 questions, and respondents were drawn from a wide range of industries, ages, and organizational and compensation levels. The average survey participant took 21 minutes to complete the assessment. For purposes of this study, we selected for analysis only those questions relevant to discovering the following: • How many hours per week do people spend interacting with their direct leader? • How do they spend those hours (email, face-to-face, phone, etc.)? • And most importantly, how many hours per week SHOULD people spend interacting with their direct leader? Among the specific survey questions we selected for analysis were the following: • How many hours per week do you spend interacting with your direct leader? • What percent of the time you spend interacting with your leader is spent via face-to-face, email, phone, etc. • Various demographics, including position, sex, age, industry, location, and more. • Scaled questions, asked on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (Never) to 7 (Always), including… Working here inspires me to give my absolute best effort.
I recommend our company as a great organization to work for.
I keep generating great ideas every week to help the organization improve.
I find something interesting in every task I do.
I feel that my work is valued by my direct leader.

FINDING #1: HOW MANY HOURS PER WEEK DO PEOPLE SPEND INTERACTING WITH THEIR DIRECT LEADER?

Across the 32,410 participants in this study, almost half spend 3 or fewer hours per week interacting with their direct leader, while less than 30% spend 6 or more hours. Here’s a chart with the breakdown…

In this study, 3 hours is the median time that people spend interacting with their direct leader.

FINDING #2: HOW MANY HOURS PER WEEK SHOULD PEOPLE SPEND INTERACTING WITH THEIR DIRECT LEADER?

While it’s nice to know how many hours people ARE spending interacting with their leader, it’s even more important to know how many hours people SHOULD be spending with their leader. To answer this question we analyzed how inspired, engaged, innovative and intrinsically motivated people are compared to how many hours per week they spend interacting with their leader.

FINDING #2A: HOW MANY HOURS PER WEEK SHOULD PEOPLE SPEND INTERACTING WITH THEIR DIRECT LEADER FOR INSPIRATION

We measured inspiration by asking respondents the question “Working here inspires me to give my best effort” on a scale ranging from 1 (Never) to 7 (Always). So we can say that as the score moves closer to 7, the more inspired that person is to give their best effort at work. When we analyzed whether people feel inspired to give their best effort at work against how many hours they spend interacting with their leader every week, we found that their inspiration increases significantly every hour they spend interacting with their leader, up to 6 hours. Here’s the chart…

You can see a very clear upward trend from hours 1-6. As people spend more hours interacting with their leader every week, the more inspired they are to give their best effort at work. In fact, there is a 29% increase in inspiration as people move from spending 1 hour to 6 hours interacting with their leader. It’s also interesting to note that when it comes to inspiration, there appear to be diminishing returns to spending more than 6 hours per week interacting with one’s leader. (This is not to say that there might not be other benefits to interacting with one’s leader more than 6 hours per week, but in this study, levels of inspiration remained the same or declined beyond 6 hours of interaction). These numbers are generally highly statistically significant. For example, the differences in inspiration scores between 1 vs. 2 hours, 2 vs. 3 hours, 3 vs. 4 hours and 5 vs. 6 hours are all significant at the p < .01 level or greater.

FINDING #2B: HOW MANY HOURS PER WEEK SHOULD PEOPLE SPEND INTERACTING WITH THEIR DIRECT LEADER FOR ENGAGEMENT

We measured engagement by asking respondents the question “I recommend this company as a great organization to work for” on a scale ranging from 1 (Never) to 7 (Always). So we can say that as the score moves closer to 7, the more likely that person is to recommend their company to others. When we analyzed whether people will recommend their company against how many hours they spend interacting with their leader every week, we again found that their engagement increases significantly every hour they spend interacting with their leader, up to 6 hours. Here’s the chart…

Again, you can see a very clear upward trend from hours 1-6. As people spend more hours interacting with their leader every week, the more engaged they are (i.e. likely to recommend their company as a great organization to work for). In fact, there is a 30% increase in engagement as people move from spending 1 hour to 6 hours interacting with their leader. Similar to inspiration, when it comes to engagement, there appear to be diminishing returns to spending more than 6 hours per week interacting with one’s leader. These numbers are generally highly statistically significant. For example, the differences in inspiration scores between 1 vs. 2 hours, 2 vs. 3 hours, 3 vs. 4 hours and 5 vs. 6 hours are all significant at the p < .05 level or greater. Here’s a full chart of statistical significance:

FINDING #2C: HOW MANY HOURS PER WEEK SHOULD PEOPLE SPEND INTERACTING WITH THEIR DIRECT LEADER FOR INNOVATION

We measured innovation by asking respondents the question “I keep generating great ideas every week to help the organization improve” on a scale ranging from 1 (Never) to 7 (Always). So we can say that as the score moves closer to 7, the more that person is generating great improvement ideas every week. When we analyzed whether people will keep generating great improvement ideas every week against how many hours they spend interacting with their leader, we again found that their innovation increases significantly every hour they spend interacting with their leader, up to 6 hours. Here’s the chart…

Again, you can see a very clear upward trend from hours 1-6. As people spend more hours interacting with their leader every week, the more they keep generating great improvement ideas. There is a 16% increase in innovation as people move from spending 1 hour to 6 hours interacting with their leader. Similar to inspiration and engagement, when it comes to innovation, there appear to be diminishing returns to spending more than 6 hours per week interacting with one’s leader. These numbers are generally highly statistically significant. For example, the differences in innovation scores between 1 vs. 2 hours, 4 vs. 5 hours and 5 vs. 6 hours are all significant at the p < .05 level or greater. Here’s a full chart of statistical significance:

FINDING #2D: HOW MANY HOURS PER WEEK SHOULD PEOPLE SPEND INTERACTING WITH THEIR DIRECT LEADER FOR INTRINSIC MOTIVATION

We measured intrinsic motivation by asking respondents the question “I find something interesting in every task I do” on a scale ranging from 1 (Never) to 7 (Always). So we can say that as the score moves closer to 7, the more that person is finding interesting things in their work (which is a key component of intrinsic motivation). When we analyzed whether people will find their work interesting against how many hours they spend interacting with their leader, we again found that their intrinsic motivation increases significantly every hour they spend interacting with their leader, up to 6 hours. Here’s the chart…

There’s a very clear upward trend from hours 1-6. As people spend more hours interacting with their leader every week, the more they find their work interesting. There is a 15% increase in intrinsic motivation as people move from spending 1 hour to 6 hours interacting with their leader. And once again, similar to inspiration, engagement, and innovation, when it comes to intrinsic motivation, there appear to be diminishing returns to spending more than 6 hours per week interacting with one’s leader. These numbers are generally highly statistically significant. For example, the differences in innovation scores between 1 vs. 2 hours, 2 vs. 3 hours and 5 vs. 6 hours are all significant at the p < .01 level or greater. Here’s a full chart of statistical significance:

RESEARCH NOTE: IS THIS AN ARTIFACT OF SOMETHING ELSE?

A very legitimate question is whether this positive relationship between hours spent interacting with one’s leader and people’s feelings about inspiration, engagement, innovation and intrinsic motivation is just an artifact of the quality of leaders or how people feel about their leader.

For example, if people like their leader and want to spend more time with them because they like them, then perhaps all this study would be saying is that people want to spend time with leaders they like. But we’re making a more substantive claim than that. We’re saying that whether your feelings about your leader are good or bad, increasing the time spent in interactions with them is, up to a point, associated with being more inspired, engaged, innovative and intrinsically motivated.

So how do we prove that our assertion is true? In essence, we need to control for people’s feelings about their leader and then see if the relationship between time spent and inspiration still holds true. We needed to find a measure of whether a leader was perceived as good or bad. So we used the question “I feel that my work is valued by my direct leader” rated on a scale ranging from 1 (Never) to 7 (Always).

While not necessarily a perfectly comprehensive proxy for whether someone likes or dislikes their leader, this question does get to the issue of whether someone feels positively or negatively about their leader. We took the top quartile of people (who always or almost always feel that their work is valued by their leader) and the bottom quartile of people (who never or almost never feel that their work is valued by their leader) to see if the positive relationship between time and inspiration still held.

The following chart shows that for both the top and bottom quartiles, the positive relationship between time and inspiration still exists…

What this chart shows is that for the people in the top quartile, who feel positive about their leader (they feel like their leader values their work), the more time they spend with interacting with their leader, the more inspired they feel.

In fact, the people who spend 6 hours per week interacting with their leader are 12% more inspired than the people who only spend 1 hour per week. Similarly, for people in the bottom quartile, who do not feel positive about their leader (they feel like their leader does not value their work), the more time they spend with interacting with their leader, the more inspired they feel.

So even though these bottom quartile people don’t feel very good about their leader, the people who spend 6 hours per week interacting with their leader are 26% more inspired than the people who only spend 1 hour per week. Essentially, even after controlling for peoples’ feelings about their leader, these findings show a robust relationship between time spent interacting with one’s leader and increased inspiration.

HOW SHOULD TIME WITH YOUR LEADER BE SPENT?

There are many ways that people communicate with their leaders; face-to-face, email, phone, video conferencing, texting, social media, and more. But notwithstanding our present technological age, face-to-face and email communication are by far the most common ways that people interact with their leader.

We wanted to know whether the mix of those two communication modalities differed based on how much time someone spent interacting with their leader. The following is a chart that shows the percent of time people interact with their leader via face-to-face and email…

You can see that for people who only spend 1 hour per week interacting with their leader, 33% of that time is spent in face-to-face interaction and 42% is spent via email. By contrast, the people who spend 6 hours per week interacting with their leader spend a far larger 48% of their time in face-to-face interactions, and a far smaller 27% of their time interacting via email. So it appears that not only is the amount of time spent interacting with one’s leader important, but increasing the percentage of face-to-face interaction matters as well.

DO EXECUTIVES NEED MORE OR LESS TIME WITH THEIR LEADERS?

It’s natural to wonder whether the positive linkage between time with leaders and feelings like inspiration hold true at all organizational levels (i.e. non-managers, middle managers and executives). We gathered fairly granular data about respondents’ position, so we grouped them into 3 broad categories (non-managers, middle managers and executives) for ease of analysis. Here’s what we found…

What’s striking is that unlike the overall analysis, the inspiration of executives and middle managers didn’t peak with 6 hours per week interacting with their leader. In fact, executives experienced their highest levels of inspiration when they spent 7-8 hours per week interacting with their leader. And middle managers felt their highest levels of inspiration when they spent 9-10 hours per week interacting with their leader. While we might have expected that executives and middle managers would need less time interacting with their leader, this analysis clearly shows that the opposite is true.

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