How to raise workplace productivity in China

The average work day

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Contrary to popular belief, the actual time spent at work appears to have little impact on productivity.

Key findings:

  • Only 52% of workers’ time at work – equivalent to just over 4 hours each day – is engaged in what they consider to be productive work.
  • 20% of their time – over an hour and a half each day – is spent on activities they consider a waste of time and effort.
  • More than a quarter of their time – 2 hours, 20 minutes on average a day – is devoted to purely personal activities.

EY - The average work day

Similarity and difference among different Chinese worker groups

Like their peers in most industrialized economies, Chinese workers spend close to two thirds of their waking hours either at work or travelling to and from their workplace.

Both highly productive and less productive workers spend a similar amount of time at work and took a similar amount of annual leave each year.

The only discernible difference is that highly productive workers – those in the ”super achievers” group – generally spend less time travelling to work and take only 2.2 days of sick leave per year.

Little difference between ownership groups

Workers of foreign enterprises were on average only 3 percentage points ahead of state-owned enterprises when it came to employing their time productively.

Correlation with the level of tertiary sector development of worker’s location

The amount of time spent on productive work in the workplace was somewhat correlated with the level of tertiary sector development of the worker’s location. Respondents from Hong Kong reported spending more time (55%) doing productive work than their counterparts in Shanghai (52%) and Chongqing (49%).

However, it is surprising how far Hong Kong’s office productivity appears to lag that of Australia, given their similar levels of economic development.

More time wasted than counterparts in Australia and Korea

The results we found in China are in clear contrast to those in two other countries we have surveyed – Korea and Australia.

Excluding lunch breaks, Chinese workers spent almost half (48%) of their time in the office on unproductive tasks and personal activities. This is 10 percentage points more than their counterparts in Korea and a full 18 percentage points more than the typical office worker in Australia.

No clear idea of roles and work expectations

Employees with higher productivity tend to spend less time on unproductive activities and on their own personal matters, but not by a big margin. Even “super achievers,” for example, applied 3.5 hours of their time each day on unproductive work and personal activities, compared with 4.5 hours for the “lost souls.”

These numbers suggest that workers overall are either rather disengaged from their work or do not have a clear idea of their roles and work expectations.