In one stroke a study released in July destroyed the idea that Americans are all work and no play, and told employers they have something new to worry about. The research shows that time wasting at work is pervasive and costs employers billions of dollars a year. The experts called in to design work systems to curb the expensive habit are likely to be macroergonomists. These professionals start with a wide perspective of workplace problems, analyzing them at an organizational and systemic level, even weighing prevailing cultural attitudes as potential factors.
America Online (AOL) and Salary.com broke the news about time-frittering in July. The 10,044 respondents in their online survey admitted to wasting, on average, 2.09 hours per day. Polling corporate human resources professionals and users of AOL and Salary.com Salary Wizard, the researchers asked respondents to indicate how much time they wasted per day in a five 8-hour-day workweek. Lunch and scheduled break-time were not counted in the survey.
The bottom line? Salary.com calculated that employers spend $759 billion per year on salaries for which real work was expected, but not actually performed.
Personal Internet use was found to be the biggest distraction, with 44.7 percent of employees citing the Internet as the biggest draw. Socializing with co-workers was next, at 23.4 percent. Personal business, daydreaming, errands and personal phone calls made up the rest. The more candid respondents admitted to bringing Game Boys or needlework to the office, others to running races up the staircase with co-workers.
Who tends to waste the most time at work? The figures show men and women fritter away about the same amount of time per day, and that the older people are, the less time they waste at work.
Regionally, the most time appears to be wasted by workers in Missouri, Indiana, and Kentucky. Workers in South Carolina, Rhode Island, and Hawaii slack off the least.
Employees aren’t willing to take all the blame for wasting time, according to the survey, with 33.2 percent saying lack of work as the biggest reason, and 23.4 percent saying they waste time because they feel underpaid.
As a phenomenon, time wasting isn’t news to employers: they calculate as a matter of course that almost one hour a day will be lost that way and the figure is factored into their compensation planning. The news is that the real figure appears to be twice the amount they take into account.
Time wasting is only one of hundreds of symptoms of a malfunctioning system that call for a macroergonomic solution. Bullying and medical errors, covered recently in The Ergonomics Report