How much time do you spend in meetings with colleagues, speaking to them on the phone or responding to their emails? Research suggests that too much collaborating can affect employees’ performance and make them feel anxious.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant discuss their research looking into the effect of collaborative activities on individuals and businesses.

While teamwork is often seen as an important step for organizational success, in the past 20 years employees and managers have doubled the amount of time they spend on collaborative activities, they explain.

Cross, Rebele and Grant say this is a reason for concern. For many companies, the time spent collaborating – in meetings, on the phone and responding to emails – has reached around 80%, leaving employees only 20% of their day for all the critical work they must complete on their own.

This level of teamwork leads to a drop in performance, and employees becoming stressed and unable to perform to a high standard.

Why do colleagues collaborate?

The authors identify three reasons: “Employees invest in others to create value: informational, social and personal.”

Informational resources are knowledge and skills that can be easily passed on. Social resources involve using your position, awareness and access to help colleagues. And finally, personal resources require the input of time and energy.

The use of personal resources is the biggest problem for collaboration as employees are left with less time and energy for their own work.

However, personal resources are often the most desirable form of collaboration. And as people request an increasing amount of time and energy from co-workers, they become a bigger drain on an individual’s personal resources.

The researchers undertook a study looking at the demands facing a group of key employees across 20 organizations. The size of the bubble represents an individual’s career satisfaction score.

People who are needed for their informational resources but not their time have a much higher level of career satisfaction than those whose time and energy is more in demand. This dissatisfaction with their careers can lead to employees leaving their organizations.

Another factor contributing to the problem is that a high percentage of the added value from collaboration comes from a small percentage of employees.

The authors found that up to 35% of value-added collaborations came from less than 5% of employees. These individuals are valued for their willingness to help and their capabilities, however this increases their desirability.

Bosses must work to limit the pressures placed on individuals and increase their organization’s collaborative efficiency, say Cross, Rebele and Grant. “Leaders must learn to recognize, promote and efficiently distribute the right kinds of collaborative work, or their teams and top talent will bear the costs of too much demand for too little supply.”