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8 Big Productivity Killers at Work

Time Wasters

Americans may be spending more time at work, but they’re also becoming much less productive. Workplace productivity dropped 0.3% in the second quarter of 2011, following a decline of 0.6% in the first three months of the year, according to the Labor Department. It was the first back-to-back decline in productivity since the second half of 2008.

What can the decline be attributed to? Based on a series of studies from various research groups, federal agencies and nonprofit organizations, it could be any number of things, from sporting events to medical ailments to a variety of vices. (One thing it totally isn’t: Internet surfing, which one study found actually makes employees more productive. Go figure.)

MainStreet rounded up several estimates to find out which workplace productivity killers are among the more expensive. HR departments take note.

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March Madness

Estimated Losses: More than $192 million

According to a 2011 report from outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., an estimated 8.4 million work hours are lost to the annual three-week-long college basketball tournament held in March.

Challenger got the figure by multiplying the 8.4 million work hours lost to game-watching and bracket-making – based on traffic statistics from CBSSports.com – by $22.87, the average hourly earnings for private-sector workers.

The figures may look steep, but they’re not terrible when you consider the bigger picture.

“Over the three weeks of the tournament, the nation's 108 million workers will have logged more than 11 billion hours of work," Challenger said. "The 8.4 million hours lost to March Madness is a relative drop in the bucket, accounting for less than one-tenth of 1% (about 0.07%) of the total hours American workers will put in over the three weeks of the tournament."

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Flight Delays

Estimated Losses: $4 billion

Back in 2010, a report commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration discovered that flight delays cost the U.S. workforce $4 billion in time wasted.

The fact that these delays also cost consumers $16.7 billion of their own money and airlines $8 billion of theirs may have contributed to the introduction of new laws concerning how long airlines are allowed to keep planes on the tarmac, though the FAA has yet to report whether any funding has been saved.

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Fantasy Football

Estimated losses: $9.2 billion a year

March Madness isn’t the only sporting event Challenger, Gray & Christmas has measured in terms of lost workplace productivity. Back in 2008, the firm put out a report that said fantasy football would cost employers $9.2 billion.

The stat was based on Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) estimates of average team owners' salaries ($80,000) and hours spent running a team during the week (1.19). The firm estimated that fantasy football cost companies $45.22 per week per player.

Since then, however, Challenger has softened its stance on fantasy football in the workplace.

"It is difficult for companies to take a hard-line stance against fantasy football," Challenger said a blog post. "The Internet technology that helped fuel the rapid growth of fantasy football participation and makes it possible to manage teams from one's desk also makes it possible for employees to attend to work duties during their personal time."

Photo Credit: ChimpanzAPe

The Flu

Estimated Losses: $10 Billion

According to a recent survey from Walgreens, the flu caused Americans to miss 100 million workdays and $6.8 billion in wages in 2010, while companies were out about $10 billion, thanks to paid sick days and lower productivity from ailing workers who insisted on coming into the office.

The numbers may seem a bit a low when you consider how many Americans get sick with the flu – more than 62 million a year – but you have to the remember the flu is an equal opportunity illness in that people at all levels are susceptible. It also led to 32 million missed school days last year.

Photo Credit: Alicia Njidam

Food-Borne Illness

Estimated losses: $14 billion

Food-borne pathogens like salmonella, listeria monocytogenes and norovirus cost the American workplace $14 billion in lost productivity in largely the same way the flu does, according to a report from the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogen Institute.

The figures could conceivably grow, considering recent stats from the CDC indicate that hospitalization related to food-borne illness is on the rise.

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Long-Term Care Obligations

Estimated Losses: $33.6 billion a year

A recent report from AARP found that American businesses end up losing $33.6 billion each year to the cost of replacing workers who leave to care for a relative full-time as well as the cost of employees who get less work done because they work fewer hours and are generally more distracted by their care obligations outside of work.

Additionally, a separate MetLife survey found the average caregiver in the 50-and-over age group loses $303,880 in lifetime earnings by leaving the workforce early to care for a loved one full-time.

Photo Credit:  brykmantra

Insomnia

Estimated Losses: $63.2 billion a year

The flu has nothing on losing sleep when it comes to losing wages. In September an annual sleep study conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine revealed that insomnia costs the average U.S. worker 11.3 days, or $2,280 in lost productivity every year. As a nation, the total cost is 252.7 days and $63.2 billion.

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Alcohol Consumption

Estimated losses: $160.5 billion a year

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drunks cost this country $223 billion a year through excess alcohol consumption, 72% of which comes from lost productivity.

The other factors accounting for the remaining $62.5 billion are health care costs, criminal justice system expenses stemming from alcohol-related incidents and car crashes resulting from DUIs.

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9 Ways to Waste Time at Work

What are some other things that can lead to lower productivity? Find out in MainStreet’s roundup of 9 Ways to Waste Time at Work!

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