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70% of Workers Are Paid to Waste Time - Every Day

Posted by Vy Huynh on Jun 13, 2014 9:38:00 AM

The median weekly wage for workers in the U.S. is $786—are employers getting what they’re paying for? The odds are stacked against them, as a Gallup study found that only 30 percent of the American workforce is engaged, and the rest is costing companies up to $550 billion annually. Whether you know it or not, you’re probably paying your employees to socialize with coworkers, make personal phone calls, and even shop online. Recent survey results by Salary.com revealed pretty much everything there is to know about wasting time at work, and if you value productivity and performance, you’ll probably want to know what they found. Prepare yourself, the numbers might be shocking.  

How much time is wasted at work?
Almost 7 out of 10 people said they waste time at work—Every. Single. Day. So, only 30 percent are not wasting time every day; that’s a striking resemblance to Gallup’s finding that only 30 percent of the American workforce is engaged. My guess is that there is a pretty close correlation between the two. Thirty-four percent of survey respondents said they routinely waste 30 minutes or less while on the clock every day, and another 24 percent waste 30-60 minutes daily. Again, that’s every day! Additionally, 21 percent reported slacking off 1-2 times per week, and 10 percent said they never waste time on the job. So, out of every worker surveyed, employers are only getting what they bargained for from 1 in every 10 workers.

Identifying the time wasters:
Sorry guys, men slump at work more than women. The survey found that 73 percent of men slack off, versus 66 percent of women, which isn’t a huge margin, but still noteworthy.  The young Millennial generation has been a hot topic for some time, so let’s see where they fall. Seventy-five percent of Gen Y employees, aged 18-25, said they waste time on a daily basis. Not  anything to be proud of, but you might be surprised to know that this group beat-out 82 percent of 26-32-year-olds and 76 percent of 33-39 year-olds who said the same.  Now, between workers with a high school diploma or less, and those with doctorate degrees, who do you think wastes more time? If you guessed the employee with a high school diploma or less, you’d be wrong! Only 59 percent of them reported wasting time, in contrast to 76 percent of those with doctorates. Some might say they earned the right to slack off, but they’re often getting paid big bucks to underperform, so it’s an expensive situation.

If they aren’t working, what are they doing?
Maybe your talent isn’t much of an early morning kind of crowd. My guess is that they don’t have time to sit down with some coffee and read the morning newspaper, as 37 percent chose “checking the news” as their top time-wasting activity. However, the most favored activity was chatting with coworkers, which came in at 43 percent. Others included:

  • Web Surfing – 28%

  • Social Media – 4%

  • Texting – 4%

  • Personal Calls – 4%

  • Online Shopping – 2%

Most time wasting activities are possible through technology and the Internet at work, but 20 percent of respondents said they never visit non work-related websites while on the job.

Why do they slack off, and when?
There are a number of reasons why employees might decide to entertain themselves with things other than work. Some reasons may not be related to the job, but many are. Eleven percent of the workers surveyed stated that their time wasting was due to a lack of incentive to perform, while 10 percent do so because they aren’t satisfied with their jobs—three percent of which is due to low pay. As for another 9 percent? Well, they’re just bored. Almost half of all time wasters chose Friday as their favorite day to waste time, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise. Also unsurprisingly, 3-5 p.m. is the most common window of time for employees to stray from work activities, but 15% of the early-risers choose to waste time between 7 and 9 a.m.! Generally, the later in the day it is, the higher the chance that non work-related activities are taking place in your workplace.

The biggest workplace distractions:
It can take up to 23 minutes for a worker to return to their work after they have been thrown off task by a distraction. Some of your employees waste time without necessarily meaning to, as other workplace factors can play a part in distracting even the most diligent and productive of your workers. The survey asked, "What's the biggest distraction in your workplace?" to which the 1000 respondents ranked these 7 factors:

  1. Too many meetings—19%  

  2. Inefficient team members— 17%

  3. Coworkers—17%

  4. Office politics—13%

  5. Busy work—13%

  6. Other—11%

  7. My Boss—8%

You might be shocked to know that the meetings you have called may do more harm than good, winning out over coworkers and inefficient team members for the top spot on the list of workplace distractions. Additionally, you may want to examine your managerial processes, as 8 percent of those questioned said their boss was the biggest distraction to them at work.

What to do about it:
Some activities and breaks at work can actually boost productivity and performance, but there is a fine line between helping and hurting with strategic non work-related activities. Thirty percent of the employees surveyed said their employers block the use of some personal sites during work hours, but such policies may not be as effective as you might think. If an employer were to block access to certain websites, 52% of workers said they would use their own computers, phones, or tablets to access them. While the majority of respondents (78%) said restricted Internet access wouldn’t factor into their decision to work at an organization, some 15 percent would actually turn down a job offer or look for a new employer if such policies were put into place. Technology surely changes the way we work, many times making it easier to get things done, but the desires of employees also change and can pose a challenge to workplace productivity.

Though most of the survey’s findings associate internet usage with wasted time, keep in mind that 60% of those surveyed believe that spending time on non work-related tasks during work hours actually improves productivity. Internet access isn’t the problem here, it’s merely a symptom of another issue, so don’t go putting it on lockdown. Instead, address the real issues that cause time wasting and get to the root of the problem. Looking at the survey results,there is a few ways lost productivity might be eliminated or reduced:

  • Hold people accountable

  • Give them meaningful and interesting work

  • Optimize workplace processes (like meetings) to create less distraction

  • Offer incentives to perform

  • Hire people who facilitate a high-performance workplace environment—not distractions

  • Maintain a healthy balance between fun and work; too much of anything is a bad thing.

It’s doubtful that time wasting will ever become a non-factor, as varying day-to-day situations are hard to predict or control. However, there’s a lot of time being wasted at work on a daily basis, and though we can never reclaim lost time, there are many ways employers can significantly reduce the amount of time wasted in the future, and increase workplace performance.


Salary.com 2013 Wasted Time at Work Survey
Gallup State of the American Workforce Report 2013
Bureau of Labor Statistics

Do you have an experience with time wasters you’d like to share? How do you handle distractions and manage your productivity in the workplace? Share with us in the “Comments” section below!

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Topics: improve productivity and performance, onboarding, employees engagement, Effective and Efficient Employees

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