How much time are your employees actually wasting?

June 8, 2018


Most people have answered a personal email or had a quick snack on company time – and that’s perfectly fine. Employers assume that few people actually work a full 8-hour day, anyway. However, recent studies show that employees are spending more time than you’d expect on non-work-related activities while at the office.

According to The Muse, the average worker admits to wasting 3 hours out of 8 each day, not including scheduled break time, while HR assumes that that figure is around 1 hour. Fortune cited an OfficeTeam study that found that the average office employee spends 56 minutes per day using their cell phone at work for non-work activity and 42 minutes a day on personal tasks such as errands. This adds up to almost 8 hours a week of total lost productivity.

So what are these employees doing when they’re not working? Forbes contributor Cheryl Conner compiled a list of the most popular extra-work activities, which includes:

  • Talking on the cell phone and texting – 50%
  • Gossiping – 42%
  • On the Internet – 39%
  • On social media – 38%
  • Taking snack or smoke breaks – 27%
  • Distracted by noisy co-workers – 24%
  • On email – 23%

Conner also recounted some employers’ stories about what they’d seen employees doing when they should have been focused on work. One married employee was browsing a dating website and then denied it while it was still up on his screen. Others were having a wrestling match and another was laying under boxes to scare people.

You may find the above scenarios funny, but the situation is a real problem for most organizations – and it can get even worse based on your employees’ age. According to the same OfficeTeam study, cited by Fortune, employees aged 18 to 34 spend 70 minutes on their phones and 48 on personal tasks every day, adding up to a total of almost 10 hours per week.

We’ve already established that the situation is dire, but what can you do as an employer to cut back on distractions at work? Cheryl Conner suggested the following:

  1. Implement tighter workplace policies. If excess noise from speakerphones and employee drop-byes are constant distractions in your office, you need new rules in place. Having good policies in place and creating a discussion around what the team’s expectations are in terms of behavior can reduce the number of transgressions. It also creates a backdrop for productive HR discussions when problems arise. Don’t take it too far, though – measures such as prohibiting the use of personal devices during work hours might cause resentment and will most likely be ignored.
  2. Focus on the work accomplished instead of the time spent. Allowing your employees the freedom to manage their own time is a win-win situation if deadlines are met. The work gets done, and your employees are much less likely to waste time on miscellaneous activities if they know that they can go home if their work for the day is done. Many workers are also more productive if they can take breaks between segments of work to play a game or go on social media.
  3. Filter Internet usage. Banning social media sites like Facebook and Twitter likely won’t help, since the vast majority of employees own mobile devices that can access them. What you can do is modulate the network bandwidth to prevent excess usage due to activities such as video streaming.
  4. Educate your employees. Many workers may not be aware of the potential consequences of badmouthing the company or gossiping about coworkers during work hours – especially if they do it online. Situations like these can, in the best case, lead to negative job reviews, and in the worst – even end a career. Knowing the severity of such acts should deter employees from wasting company time carrying them out.

To this list, I would like to add one less-mentioned point: find out why your employees are not working and treat the cause, not the symptom. While some workers set aside their tasks because they simply don’t feel like doing them, it might be worth investigating what’s turning away certain people from doing their jobs – especially if the time losses are quite high.

Employee burnout is a major cause of loss of productivity, most notably in individuals that are typically dependable and consistent.  They might be overworked or simply tired of doing the same tasks. If that is the case, try adding some variation in the type of the projects you assign, for example. You can also discuss balance with your employees and make sure they’re not doing too much overtime. If they are, encourage them to set a cutoff time when they turn off their computer and disconnect completely from work. You should also make sure they take their scheduled breaks, especially lunch.

Like I mentioned before, most managers have resigned to the fact that few (if no) employees spend 8 hours per day just working. However, if you are worried about the amount of time your employees spend on non-work-related activities, you can try taking the above measures to increase productivity.