Hardly Working? Survey Exposes The Mind Of A Time Waster - InformationWeek

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7/25/2007
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Hardly Working? Survey Exposes The Mind Of A Time Waster

The average employee spends 1.7 hours on unrelated work activities, but taking a break can help people recharge their batteries to make it through the day.

Are you working hard or hardly working? A new report out Wednesday may shed some light on why employees waste 20% of their workdays and why that may not be such a bad thing.

Salary.com's 2007 Wasting Time Survey showed the average employee spends 1.7 hours of a typical 8.5-hour workday on activities unrelated to the job. Almost 35% of respondents said they spend time on the Internet for personal reasons, 20.3 said they socialize with co-workers, and 17% conduct personal business. Respondents also said they make personal calls and take long breaks to run errands. The third annual review was conducted with 2,000 employees across all job levels through America Online and Salary.com users in June and July.

The average worker wastes less time this year than last, but companies still pay billions for nothing in return.

The amount of time wasted at work has dropped 19% since 2005, when employees said they wasted an average of 2.09 hours daily. In 2006, they reported wasting 1.86 hours a day. A growing economy, increases in employee productivity, and a tightening labor market, could have contributed to the decline. "A shortage of labor and tighter company budgets has resulted in an increased burden on employees who now have less time available to waste," said Bill Coleman, chief compensation officer at Salary.com. "This translates into a greater return for companies but increases the risk of employee burnout. When increasing workloads, organizations should also allow a certain amount of flexibility for employees to conduct personal business or take a mental breather."

More than 63% of respondents admitted to wasting time at work, and younger workers waste more time than older ones. Employees between the ages of 20 and 29 waste about 2.1 hours a day. The average for employees ages 30 to 39 drops to 1.9 hours, while people between the ages of 40 and 49 waste just 1.4 hours daily.

Nearly 18% of employees say they waste time because they "don't have enough work to do." Almost 14% said their hours are too long. About 12% say they're underpaid and 11.1% say their work isn't challenging and that's why they waste work time.

"While a certain amount of wasted time is built into company salary structures, our research indicates that companies with a challenged and engaged workforce can expect more productivity in return," Coleman said.

Although the survey didn't closely examine workday patterns and lengths, Coleman said workers are spending more personal time on work, too, now that they can be reached around the clock thanks to technology.

So does all work and no play make Johnny a good employee? Perhaps not.

A separate report released Wednesday by AOL found there are benefits to wasting time. Stepping away from a problem can lead to creative solutions; water cooler conversations can be a team-building exercise that improves workplace relationships; and wasted time can help people "recharge their batteries to make it through the day," Coleman said in an interview Wednesday.

"As juvenile as it sounds, I liken it to when we were in elementary school and we had recess,'' he said."We need to take a break from what we're doing."

Complaining, however, really is a waste of time, Coleman said.

"You're sort of up negative energy in the office," he said. "The more destructive wasted time becomes -- and it does have a longer-term effect if you're complaining to workers about workers in the office -- it creates morale issues and results in more wasted time later on because you're sucking more people into your negative vortex, so to speak."

The AOL survey respondents said they thought some of their work-related activities are a waste of time, including: fixing others' work (18.1%), dealing with office politics (16.2%), and sending or responding to e-mails (13.1%).

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