Why do employees waste time & what can a manager do?

Innovation is often seen as the mother of necessity. However, I believe laziness is the greater driving force. Humans by nature are lazy. Most inventions are designed to allow humans to perform the same task with less effort.  On the other hand, in theory we should produce more with the same energy. But, in many studies the expected theoretical production gains with innovation are rarely realized.

The consequence of having innovation is that people have more free time because their work is done quicker. However, few employees ask for more work. Since we as employers demand our staff work 8 hours a day, more idle time requires this gap to be filled by an endless array of time wasting activities.

Innovation is often the cause of wasting time at work and continues to become a bigger and bigger problem for companies all over the world. Good news is that the Great Recession has reduced the amount of time people are wasting on the job. Only 22% of those surveyed waste more than 2 hours from their work time each day, down from 24% in 2007. Still, over 1 in 5 employees waste more than 500 hours a year costing corporate Canada $6.5B alone! Many academics have attempted to understand this issue better. Here are some results from a variety of surveys:

  • Young employees waste the most time at work. The reason for this could be that most of the jobs young people are hired for are menial tasks and are not very rewarding, thus any distractions are better than doing the job. Generational differences in social media and texting usage are also contributors.
  • The correlation between education & time wasting. One would believe education would lead to more motivation. However, greater education leads to higher expectations and lower fulfilment.  Alternatively, more education could mean these individuals can get the work done quicker, yielding more idle time.
  • Blocking is not the answer. A study conducted at the University of Melbourne found that employees with access to social networks were actually more productive than employees in companies that block access. According to Dr. Brent Coker, employees who can reward themselves between the completion of one task and the start of another with a visit to their Facebook or MySpace page are more invigorated and get more done. According to the study, they get 9 percent more accomplished than their blocked counterparts.
  • Social Media productivity killer. In fact, according to a new survey, a majority of American workers (51 percent) think using social media at work hurts productivity. The survey of nearly 23,000 workers, by staffing company Kelly Services, shows that even more of them — 57 percent — believe that social media can cause problems in the workplace when workers mix personal and professional
  • Not enough work – One third of employees spend their work-time for non-work related activities because they do not have enough work to do. At a first glance, the solution for this is very easy. Give your employees more tasks. Well, this is not quite the wiser decision. The key components in productivity, innovation and job satisfaction are personal and professional development. Thus, a solution for this issue could be to fill wasted time with developmental programs and resources. Provide opportunities for employees to grow personally and professionally.
  • Feeling under paid – 34% of employees waste their time at work because they feel that they are not paid enough for their efforts. What could I say about this category of employees? My opinion: they shouldn’t be in that place. Every person is the only one responsible for their personal success and happiness. If they feel underpaid, they should get a better job! It’s up to them. As for the motivation, employees are actually more likely to be motivated by regular praise, respect in the office place, a sense of having a real voice in the business, and some level of job security. These things matter more to most people than high wages do.
  • Facebook is the number one destination, where 41% of self-professed time wasters admit to going.  The next most popular virtual stop is LinkedIn, which 37% say they visit. This might not be surprising, given that 46% of respondents say they use their work computers to look for new jobs.

Five ways to solve employee time wasting :

  1. Make people more accountable.  Have your employees build their action plans for the next 1 – 3 months. Have them build a timeline and milestone dates for weekly checkups. When your staff is defining their plans, they will be more like to buy into the deliverables and there is a greater chance they will achieve them on time.
  2. Implement an Internet policy. We have stated in earlier blogs that every company needs a policy. If you have one, it should be updated to include social media. The policy needs to be 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.
  3. Try tracking software. Time management and tracking software have been found to improve employee productivity by creating more structure and accountability as well as enabling employers to more effectively monitor employee time use.  Let them know that they are being monitored.
  4. Challenge employees. The main reason people are surfing is that they are bored.  More work is not the solution. Look for special projects or something that is different they can sink their teeth into. Challenge their initiative, decision-making and creative skills.
  5. Be more visible. Walk-abouts are helpful. Go visit your staff, surprise them. Ask them what they are working on. If you see non-work related sites quickly disappear, ask them to bring the page back.  It will be awkward, but will get your point across.

Barry Johnston

VP Operations