Thursday, October 17, 2013

Time’s A Wastin’

"I need so much time for doing nothing that I have no time for work."
Pierre Reverdy 

It's no wonder that so many workers are tempted to waste time doing personal business on the Internet during the workday because of all the conveniences it provides: from shopping to reading local news to communicating with family and friends, the Web allows us to do just as many personal tasks as it does business-related functions. Few managers will argue much about the occasional breather or decompression provided by a quick look at the news. But too much, is……well, too much.

The sheer number of available distractions is mind-numbing. More than a billion Facebook users upload more than 350 million photos each day. More than 100 hours of video are posted to YouTube every minute. Huge volumes of new data and photos are uploaded to the web continually.

A recent survey from found that the amount of time Americans waste at work jumped 5% from last year. Web surfing and using social media were again near the top of the list, with chatting with co-workers (not work-related) the biggest time killer. News sites, surprisingly enough, came in high. (Uh, oh. Does SHRM count as a news site?) The individual website topping the list, at 15% of all respondents, was Facebook. 

82% of employees age 26-32 and 76% of employees age 33-39 waste time on a daily basis.

Guess what? The sector with the most wasted time is government (there really isn’t any surprise here, is there?); 25% of government workers said they waste a few hours a day at work. On the other hand, the industry that wastes the least time is healthcare, with 16% of workers claiming they never waste time on the job. Folks on the West coast wasted more time than those on the East. 

Why do people waste so much time? 

When you hire people, you expect them to use their time efficiently and do the job right.  According to data from the survey, employees give the following reasons:

34% of employees say they are not challenged
34% say they work long hours
32% say there’s no incentive (motivation) to work harder
30% are unsatisfied with their work
23% are bored
18% say it’s due to low wages

What do you do about it?
There is an ideal balance between productive activity and down time. It's unrealistic to expect 100% productive activity all day, every day. These work distractions existed before the Internet. The key is for companies to manage these time wasters to a workable level.  Here are a few things to consider.

Challenge employees.  Since many respondents to the survey cited boredom or lack of motivation or satisfaction as reasons for wasting time, challenge them. This doesn’t mean just piling on more work. What it does mean is that you can give them more or different responsibility and challenge their initiative, decision-making and creative skills. 

Be more visible. Have managers and supervisors spend more time on the office floor. It’s not necessary to look over shoulders; the simple presence of management can be a deterrent to time wasting. Additionally, the increased interaction might lead to a better understanding of problems that exist and possible solutions. 

Have a strong technology policy – and enforce it. Define what is and is not acceptable; clearly communicate the consequences of unacceptable usage. Also consider an acceptable usage policy for personal mobile devices in the workplace. Ultimately, they need to know that there is work to be done first and foremost and that abuse will lead to restrictions.

Hold your managers and supervisors to the same policy and hold them accountable for the productivity of their staff. 

Here’s an interesting little tidbit from a couple of these surveys: Imagine an employee who works 2,080 hours per year (260 days). If she is in the top the bracket of time wasters, she wastes 520 hours per year. That’s 25% of her total hours at work spent on unproductive activities. Now, multiply that, or even a part of that, by a large percentage of your employee base. Do you want to have that much time, and money, wasted?

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