Microsoft used data analysis to discover why its employees were miserable


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An article in the New York Times’ Upshot section examines what happened. It explains that Microsoft uses surveys to monitor employees’ attitudes, and while those working on Xbox and Surface products scored above average in most areas, they reported being much less satisfied when it came to work-life balance than others at the firm. There were concerns that some of the 700 people might start quitting, meaning Microsoft would lose hard-to-replace engineers, throwing its hardware business into disarray.

To try and figure out the problem, Microsoft’s analytics team examined the metadata from the workers’ emails and calendar appointments. There were several theories as to why they might be unhappy: unusual and long hours, overly aggressive bosses, performing after-hours tasks, but none of these were the root cause. After all, other teams experienced the same elements but didn’t report similar levels of unhappiness.

"Gut instincts about overwork just weren't supported by the numbers," explains writer Neil Irwin. "People who had taken jobs requiring that sort of commitment seemed to accept these things as part of the deal."

The data revealed that the hardware division was spending 27 hours in meetings each week, and while that wasn’t much more than a typical team at the company, there was one difference: they usually involved a lot of people—between 10 and 20 as opposed to just two or three.

By clogging up staff’s schedules with overcrowded meetings, it left them with little time to concentrate on more focused tasks, forcing them to spend evenings and weekends catching up on their work.

The solution was for managers to assess the number of meetings they called each week and ensure they were essential. Employees, meanwhile, were encouraged to set aside time on their calendars for the kind of focused, independent work they had been performing outside of working hours, thereby making it less likely a colleague would schedule a meeting during this time. Finally, tracking software was implemented to show workers their statistics, including how many emails were sent and received on weekends and evenings, which should encourage healthier behavior.

Eventually, the hardware team’s work-life balance report improved, and no employees left the firm. So, if you feel like you’re unhappy at work, the problem may be too many overcrowded meetings.

Main image credit: SOPRADIT via shutterstock

Central image credit: Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock

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TS Evangelist
Too much bureaucracy is a problem IMO, which is also tied to meetings.
- "We need metrics on everything you do!"
-- Ok... spend at least 1 hour filling out metric reports...


TS Enthusiast
If they had had team meetings during the Stone Age, the folks at Microsoft and other tech industries would still be working on developing the wheel.
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Rock Dirty

TS Rookie
Many meetings are just manager masturbation parties. They simply enjoy being in an environment where they can feel important and make decisions in front of everybody.

The bigger the crowd, the more they get off on it.


TS Evangelist
It is not teams per se, it is cramming 10 to 20 people into 27-hours of meetings a week. Most of those people probably are not the right people to be in any particular meeting. The economics of it is that if 20 people are in 27 hours of meetings each week, that is 540 man hours wasted. 20 people spending nearly 3/4 of the work week in meetings? I would look for another job, too.

This has been known in the real world for some time. Then again, M$ seems to think it is better than the rest and can make no mistakes.
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TS Evangelist
Lol they have to use
Internet Explorer edge etc

Imagine how badly an IOS would fail if it broke as often as windowait, that's what happened to windows phones\tablets.
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TS Ambassador
It is not teams per se, it is cramming 10 to 20 people into 27-hours of meetings a week.

This has been known in the real world for some time.
OH MY - - been down that trail before. Management can't make decisions unless there's mass consensus and the masses never get it right. Great software comes from small teams (read 2-3) of good engineers with vision and autonomy.

Want a good read on the software development process -- see
The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond

see also


TS Guru
Because they have to use Windows 10 and the workers can still smell Steve Ballmer's dirty socks & OLD SPICE cologne??