Top Employee Time-Wasters and How to Prevent Them

Two new surveys measure just how workers are slacking off.
Business Partner, Consultant, Specialist, Business Consultant
May 02, 2012

Do you know what your employees are doing all day?

It's probably no surprise to you that a employee's day is not all work. But how much of it is goldbricking? Well, surveys conducted by Salary.com and AOL.com report that the average American employee wastes more than two hours each workday, costing employers more than $750 billion annually. A stunning 64 percent of survey respondents admitted that they surf the Internet for non-work purposes every day. Even more surprising, 46 percent of employees surveyed admit they have spent time looking for another job while on company time.

The Typical Profile

More men waste time at work (69 percent) than women (62 percent). Workers in the 26-to-35-year-old age group topped the list, with 75 percent wasting time each workday, edging out 18-to-25-year-olds, while workers 56 and older waste the least amount of time.

Perhaps the most startling revelation is the correlation between higher levels of education and time mismanagement. Only 59 percent of high school graduates reported wasting time, while 67 percent of PhD's admit the frequent misuse of company hours.

Time-Wasting Rationales

Some 35 percent of respondents say they waste time because their work isn't challenging enough. In a close second, 34 percent of workers say they waste time because their workday is too long, while 32 percent feel their company gives them no incentive to work harder. Another top time-wasting excuse, cited by 30 percent of employees, is job dissatisfaction in general, while 23 percent are just plain bored.

Here's the list of the top time-wasting activities, according to the surveys.

1. Social media sites. Not surprisingly, visiting social media sites is the black hole of workplace productivity. Facebook is the top social destination, with 41 percent of survey respondents logging in from work every day. Facebook is not the only culprit however; LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter and more recently Pinterest all claim their share of work-hour traffic.

2. Socializing with co-workers. The water cooler is still king, with a majority of employees admitting they commonly engage in office gossip on work time. Although employers certainly want coworkers to be friendly in order to boost company morale and team cohesiveness, it can be an enormous drain on company time. 

3. Personal business. Employees use work time to check personal e-mail accounts, make personal phone calls, send texts and do other personal tasks such as online shopping and gaming. This trend is on the rise, as the line between work and home continues to blur.

4. Excessive or prolonged breaks. A 15-minute break stretches to 20. A 30-minute lunch break turns into 45. Arrive a few minutes late in the morning. Leave a few minutes early in the afternoon. A few minutes here, a few minutes there, it’s no big deal, right? These seemingly tiny bits of lost time, add up to valuable hours squandered each week.

5. Unnecessary or inefficient meetings. While many employers tend to overlook their own contributions to inefficient use of employee work-time, 47 percent of workers surveyed cited unnecessary or unproductive meetings as their number-one waste of work hours. That should be a red flag to business owners and perhaps the easiest problem to repair.

So what's a business owner to do? Here are a few tips on increasing productivity without causing a full-scale mutiny.

Use website blockers. Utilize software to block access to certain Internet sites from work computers. While this is only a partial solution as many employees simply turn to their smart phones, some significant improvements in employee productivity have been seen. It’s apparently much more inconvenient and obvious to surf the Internet from a mobile phone. 

Implement an Internet policy. The specifics of the Internet policy are not important. What does matter is that the policy is clear and consistent. Most workers say that if they know what is allowed and what is not, they will be more likely to adhere to those guidelines. 

Try tracking software. Time management and tracking software has been found to improve employee productivity by creating more structure and accountability as well as enabling employers to more effectively monitor employee time use. 

Challenge employees. Time and time again, employees have said they are bored and not being challenged enough. So, challenge them. That doesn’t mean piling on additional work; most employees already have plenty of work to do. What it does mean is that you should give them more responsibility and challenge their initiative, decision-making and creative skills. 

Be more visible. Have management, supervisors or owners spend more time on the office floor. It’s not necessary to look over shoulders; the mere presence of management is a deterrent to time wasting. Additionally, the increased employer-employee interaction might lead to a better understanding of problems that exist and possible solutions. 

Give rewards. Motivate employees to be less wasteful with their work hours by giving them recognition and some extra incentive. Start a friendly office competition to reward the most productive workers or the most efficient team. Offer small rewards such as movie tickets, gift cards to local restaurants or even an employee of the week parking space.

Streamline meetings. While some employers don’t want to hear this, it is actually the solution most in their control. Eliminate unnecessary meetings altogether. Are weekly or daily staff meetings truly productive or a waste of employee time? For meetings that are justified, limit attendance to critical employees, stick to the agenda and adhere to a time limit.

Are there any other drains on employee productivity that you see around your office? 

Royale Scuderi is a freelance writer and success coach. She is the founder of Productive Life Concepts and has been featured on blogs such as Stepcase Lifehack and The Huffington Post. You can also find her musings on life and business at GuardWife.com and Twitter.com/RoyaleScuderi.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Business Partner, Consultant, Specialist, Business Consultant