A year ago my friend Russ Warner, CEO of ContentWatch, collaborated with me on the article Employees Really Do Waste Time At Work. The interest in that article continues to grow to this day. Today he shared his updated perspective. The verdict: We're even worse off than before.
The distractions are endless. According to Socialnomics and other web sources, volumes of new data and photos are uploaded continually and Web surfers are bombarded with thousands--even millions--of fresh pics, tweets, and articles every day. More than 1.1 billion active Facebook users upload 350M photos daily. And more than 100 hours of video join the YouTube database every minute.
From Bad to Worse
For good or bad, we now have access to more than two Zettabytes of data worldwide as of 2011 (2 zettabytes = 2 trillion gigabytes). The data deluge has fostered an atmosphere of productivity loss and increased "me time" entitlement. However you look at it, the Internet provides the medium to needlessly occupy all of our time. Each of us has the option to waste or utilize time, but the outcome varies by the habits each of us set.
[More from Forbes: 10 Easy Ways To Be More Productive At Work]
In business, we do not simply create or gain capital; we achieve it. Time, generously doused with effort, produces capital. When workers become lackadaisical, capital becomes weak. When employees shuffle back to their desks after an extended water-cooler conversation and toggle between a spreadsheet and their Facebook page (60 percent of users check Facebook daily), “like” a new pic on Instagram and then check their status with the 218 million professionals and friends on LinkedIn, they are wasting your time.
The simple truth: People waste time at work
Whether it's web surfing, engaging in personal phone calls, searching for new job opportunities, gossiping by the water cooler, shopping online, exploring social networks or checking personal email, a great deal of working time slips away. Of all workplace distractions, the Internet is the greatest productivity drain.
[More from Forbes: The 10 Best Cities For Young Entrepreneurs]
Sixty four percent of employees visit non-work related websites each day. In this category, the amount of time wasted per week on non-work related websites is as follows:
Time Wasted Pct of Employees
1-2 hours 29%
2-5 hours 21%
6-10 hours 8%
10+ hours 3%
Contributing to these percentages are social media networks. The winners for the time-loss warp are Tumblr (57%), Facebook (52%), Twitter (17%), Instagram (11%) and SnapChat (4%).
How much is too much?
Imagine an employee who works 2,080 hours per year (260 days). If she is in 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. Clearly this costs your company capital.
In addition to the conscious wasting of time, companies also squander salary and benefits on distractions such as watching and following national sports. Workplace contests such as March Madness can be detrimental to time management and focus. Some 86% of employees will spend at least some time at work following March Madness this year.
While employees congregate around TV screens, they're not answering phones or supporting clients on emails. March Madness alone, for example, costs U.S. companies $175 million in wasted time in just the first two days.
Why do employees waste so much time?
When you hire employees, you expect them to be efficient and do the job right. The employees who seek you out most generally ramped up their resumes, interviewed, and wanted their job. So why, once they get the job, do they slip into habits of time wasting and self-entitlement?
According to recent data from Salary.com, employees give the following responses:
· 34% of employees say they are not challenged
· 34% say they work long hours
· 32% say there’s no incentive to work harder
· 30% are unsatisfied with work
· 23% are just plain bored
· 18% say it’s due to low wages
As dismal as these reasons may be, all of them contribute to a lack of productivity. With no drive to work hard, employees simply plod through their work unfocused and unmotivated and get little done each day. Menial tasks become accepted as a way to fill time.
Wasted by Porn
Another distraction that is a huge issue from the standpoint of workplace liability is pornography viewing at work. Nielsen has found that 25 percent of working adults admit to looking at pornography on a computer at work. And 70 percent of all online pornography access occurs between 9 AM and 5 PM.
It's clear that porn is a common occurrence at work. This not only wastes time but also creates a hazard in your work place environment as it can lead to complaints and trouble among co-workers, sexual harassment cases, and liability for employers who haven’t taken sufficient steps to keep the unwanted content from view (let alone the network bandwidth and malware issues involved).
Who wastes the most time?
We can classify employees into three general categories: Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (Millennials). Each category tends statistically towards a set of predominant habits and traits. Knowing these possible traits can help you manage the strengths and weaknesses of each group as it pertains to time misspent in the workplace.
- Millennials (Gen Y) - born between the years of 1982 - 2004. They had access to the Internet and cell phones for communication.
- Generation X - born between the years of 1965 -1981; they had a mix of Internet/cell phones in their later years.
- Baby Boomers - born between the years 1946 - 1964. They had no Internet/cell phones even in college. They are immigrants to a technology-based society.
And so the characteristics begin. Of Millennials, 53 percent say they would give up their sense of smell rather than lose a device connection. The desperate need to be "connected" overrides the desire for their olfactory receptors to function. One third of them would rather have a flexible work environment and access to social media than a bigger paycheck. Perhaps money really isn't the best motivator after all. The motivating factor here is flexibility in device usage. On average, these technology-obsessed workers use their devices 7.5 hours per day.
Each category of workers has its strengths and weaknesses; however, the least effective workers where wasted time is concerned are Millennials. According to a study, Millennials waste more than twice as much time as Boomers. Could this be due to the early-aged exposure to technology? Does the tech-savvy society we live in affect the future employees of America and their productivity levels?
Here is the shocking news. Your company roster most likely includes all of these employee categories, but the break down is this: Boomers waste the least amount of time: about 41 minutes per day. Next are Gen X'ers who waste 1.6 hours per day. Are you ready for the winning number? Millennials waste about 2 hours per day—an entire 40 hours a month!
Why do Millennials waste so much time? On the whole, studies show, they blend work and life into an immutable whole. They have developed an entitlement to "me" time at work. On the plus side, they are highly team-oriented, which naturally sets the stage for more conversation with co-workers—but yet again, also leads to the trend and the tendency to waste workplace time. The Salary.com study reveals that the number one cause for distraction among Millennials is (not surprisingly) the Internet.
How To Make Employees More Productive
The data is dismal, but Warner has offered up several strategies managers can use to help increase distracted workers' ability to succeed. In the case of Millennials, he suggests, this is a group that clearly need more freedom in the workplace than their established counterparts in order to accomplish their goals. They will naturally need to collaborate through the use of technology. If you allow them to collaborate via the mediums they are most familiar with (including social media), they will complete projects faster and the process will run more smoothly.
[More from Forbes: The 10 Most Common Workplace Anxiety Dreams]
However, don't allow Millennials to run amok, Warner says. If they are becoming overly distracted by social media, give them additional structure during the workday. Provide guidelines for when they're allowed to access their favorite social media sites, such as potentially only once every two hours. Or allow them two paid fifteen-minute breaks a day where they're allowed to go online to do whatever they want (although workplace HR and liability rules still apply).
If your Millennial workers are wasting too much time chatting with co-workers, tell them it's fine to chat for a few minutes, Warner suggests, but to advise them not to carry these conversations on at length. Let these employees see you're willing to be flexible where possible, and they'll be more likely to want to please you by working hard. Happy employees work more efficiently, and waste less time in social media and other pursuits. When the company has a policy that makes it okay to check Facebook or Instagram periodically, they are more likely to get their work done during the rest of their time.
Three Ideas for Higher Productivity
1. First, know your employees. Once you know how your employees operate, you know how to accommodate their needs. Ask them explicitly. Even take surveys, where needed. Another idea is to establish a weekly lunch-on-the-company routine. (Our agency does this. We call it "Company Lunch". Plan parties for the weekend.
2. Second, establish rules and guidelines that motivate. Let employees contribute to the guidelines and rules. Co-creativity is important. "People need people, people need technology and people need spaces that bring those two together in effective ways that help build bonds and trust. Innovation cannot exist without these" says Business News Daily. Ditch the typical cubicle. "The hunt is on to create spaces that allow the entrepreneur to express their unique culture, that encourages spontaneous interaction, that screams that fun is a meaningful part of the creative process, and encourages personal expression making people feel at home."
A few examples of guidelines that motivate:
- Consider holding shorter meetings. Or establish a "no-meeting-day" policy: Pick a day to be meeting-free and see how employees revel in the day of no dragged-out meetings.
- Consider a more flexible dress code. Should your employees be in formal business attire if they are doing heavy lifting or never seeing clients? Pick days that can be deemed "casual." But be warned, clothing should never be offensive, frayed, or dirty in the workplace.
- Provide equipment to use during free time (such as exercise equipment, foosball, or ping pong). By providing recreational equipment, you encourage physical activity, allow your workers to unwind during stressful times and possibly increase their state of health.
- Train team in skills of time literacy and how to manage daily interruptions.
- Stay up-to-date on new management techniques.
- Consider Flex Scheduling or additional options for allowing employees to work from home, where possible, to avoid waste.
Consider these ideas as well:
-Provide flexible working hours to permit those who seek for physical activity before work, at lunch or after work.
-Offer facilities for those who wish to exercise -- shower, locker room, or an on-site exercise equipment,
-Support a local recreation league or sports team (community leagues).
-Offer discounts or subsidies on memberships at local gyms, rec centers, or health clubs.
-Offer fitness opportunities at work, such as group classes or personal training.
3. Third, measure and reward results, not time on the clock. Call employees personally to thank them and congratulate them on a job well done.
Not all methods will fit your company, your employees, or your personal style. But smart businesses should take immediate action to improve their employees’ productivity. Whatever the stage of your company, set a culture in place right away to help employees understand that in your workplace, the smart use of time means everything to your company's success.
Additional reporting for this article provided by internet safety expert Russ Warner, CEO of Contentwatch, makers of parental control software NetNanny.
- Small Businesses
- Employment & Career