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Reading at work – a study on how much time knowledge workers actual spend on reading each day
Office workers spend an average of 4.7 hours per day reading.
A study by the Association for Better Reading
London, Stockholm, Vienna (October 20, 2012)
Office workers spend an average of 2.6 hours per day reading and answering emails, according to a survey conducted by McKinsey Global Institute (http://www.mckinsey.com/
The findings were based on a survey of "knowledge workers," which McKinsey defines (http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/
However, these results do not consistently show how much time these employees spent on actually reading. Almost no studies have been made in recent years with the aim to make available such data. And this in spite of a steep rise in electronic communication and media content available and the necessity for employees to read ever larger amounts to stay ahead and achieve their work.
Based on the same assumptions about "knowledge workers" as McKinsey, we decided to carry out a study to make such data available. However, our approach differs in its main aim; to establish how much time was spent on actually reading.
When we “process emails”, we read and write, archive, delete and forward messages. When searching for-, and gathering information, we read, click, write new search strings, read again, save and archive results. When we surf the internet, we read, write, watch videos, etc. When we attend meetings, we read, write notes, present, talk, drink coffee, surf the web and read some more. Thus reading very much is an integrated task, difficult to actually define and measure apart from other activities.
For the purpose of this study, we define reading “as any activity in which reading is a part of any process”. Reading is often not a “solo action”. The interaction between reading and writing, while you process your emails or are engaged in any other such integrated activities, thus has to be measured in seconds, incrementally adding up to hours per day.
To be able to achieve such fine measurements and results, we decided to equip the test subjects with small mobile video cameras. One video camera is recording ambient surroundings, facing forward from the body of the test subject, so we can identify what type of activity the subject is involved in at any time of the day. This helps us to determine if any reading is involved. A second video camera is recording the face of the subject so we can determine whether the subject is reading, using an eye glass mounted mini cam.
When a person is reading, the eyes move in saccades, i.e. jump from one focus point to the next, from the left to the right, in a rapid fashion. Combining the view of the two recordings, and we can easily determine the exact amount of time actually involved in reading.
Test subject were chosen from companies involved in Science, Construction, IT, Finance and Law in three different countries: Sweden, Great Britain and Austria. In each company, we sought a person whose jobs consisted primarily of interactions, exactly like in the McKinsey study. Over the duration of one work-day, we asked these persons to record everything they did.
The videos were evaluated twice from different observers, counting the time spent on reading, at any time during the recorded work-day. The results were as follow
(GB) Great Britain
Av. reading time/day (hours):
Av. reading time/day (weighted):
As percentage of the work-day:
Swedes obviously spent less time reading compared to the British and the Austrians. However, as the work-day in Sweden was shorter on average when compared to the British and Austrians, we compensated for this fact in the average reading time, as seen above. Even so, the Swedes still spent less time reading.
Astounding though is the time spent each work-day actually reading. This proves that we read much more throughout the work-day, than earlier studies might lead us to believe. On top of that we spend even more time on reading at home in the evening, so the actual time spent reading each day is actually even longer.
In this study, no evaluation was made of the actual workload, i.e. how much material, or what amount of text was actual read during the day. Thus we are not able to point out any detailed evidence of differences in comprehension and reading speed. This would be an interesting matter to look into further and in need of further studies.
However, after discussing this matter with the test subjects and comparing their work environment we can say that the volumes of text the Swedes have to read in a work-day, was not less than what the British and Austrian had to read during their work-day. The Swedes seems to have just as much content to choose from like the others. However inconclusive this observation might be, it lends to an interesting fact; Swedes are probably much better readers than the British and Austrian and knows how to read faster with a higher comprehension. Other studies seem to corroborate this observation and are pointing at the intense use of subtitles in Swedish televisions as the reason, which also would explain the better understanding and use of the English language the Swedes possess.
The Association for Better Reading is a non-profit organization dedicated to academic research on the subject of reading. Members include individual professionals, academics and a range of national/regional, umbrella, research and academic, publishing and philanthropic organizations that provide assistance and funding for research, education and training.
Association for Better Reading
+44 20 7558 8806