Waste Not, Work Not
Let’s face it: We all waste time at work. Whether it’s playing FarmVille or watching old commercials on YouTube, chances are you are spending multiple hours a week on things completely unrelated to your job description.
Workplace productivity studies are a dime a dozen, but if you are an average American worker, you probably spend 20% to 25% of your day wasting time, though some estimates go even further.
Here, we look at nine of the most common ways people waste time at work. Be sure to let us know in the comments section if you’ve developed some other creative ways to pass the time in your cubicle.
Photo Credit: John McStravick
Social media is playing a bigger role in both our personal and professional lives, and the temptation of Facebook-stalking your friends from high school and clicking through every picture of a friend-of-a-friend you recently met at a party sometimes proves too much for many workers to ignore.
A study on the matter from Nucleus Research found that almost two thirds of their random sample of employees who have a Facebook account log on to the site at work, with 87% of those admitting no clear work-related reason for doing so.
Of course, not all time spent on Facebook is a waste. Many companies have made social media a part of their marketing strategy, sometimes encouraging employees to post to the organization’s fan page to communicate with consumers. Other companies have gone so far as to establish positions like “social media editor,” which entails spending all day on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.
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Human beings have an entrenched need to just play sometimes, and there are millions of online games to scratch that primordial itch. Many of the most popular games take place on Facebook, such as Zynga’s popular FarmVille and Poker games. FarmVille, according to its Facebook page, has more than 58 million active monthly users.
While playing video games might be good for the brain or hand-eye coordination, it is not so good for a company’s bottom line. Some games like FarmVille evolve in real time and don’t really have an endpoint, so those who get sucked in can easily find themselves playing constantly.
Photo Credit: Michael Reuter
While it may not work so well for those whose screens are visible to bosses or co-workers, watching online videos at work can be a huge time suck for the rest of us. Pretty much everyone these days has a Netflix account, which offers an expansive library of movies to subscribers, and sites like Hulu allow users to stream dozens of television programs for free.
Of course, YouTube is the most common destination for video entertainment, with millions of user-created videos that range from cute videos of cats and babies to historical footage you can’t find anywhere else. For nostalgic types, the new YouTube Time Machine is a procrastinator’s dream, allowing users to pick a year or decade and browse video content related to (or produced during) the era.
The most recent Comscore data for Internet video in September showed that 83.9% of the total U.S. Internet audience viewed online video that month, with an average of 14.4 hours per viewer.
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Fantasy sports leagues are like soap operas: If you miss a game, you fall behind and might as well not be participating at all. The need to stay on top of teams, rosters and upcoming games requires constant dilligence, making fantasy leagues a particularly persistent time suck for employees. Fantasy football leagues are the most popular, perhaps because of the fact that NFL games happen only on Sundays or Mondays, so you can more passively manage your team in anticipation of the weekend’s games.
While studies have suggested that fantasy football can cost employers more than $9 billion in lost productivity every year, a recent survey by consulting firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas suggested that most HR departments don’t care as long as guilty employees get their work done.
Don’t assume that your company is one of those, though – you don’t want to run afoul of your organization’s gambling rules, which cost a few Fidelity analysts their jobs last year.
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Surprising as it may be that workers would watch porn in the workplace (I wouldn't want anyone to watch me watching that, it's just creepy), the temptation to do so was too much even for our virtuous elected officials. Scandals at the Securities and Exchange Commission and Minerals Management Service this year showed what some workers will do if they have too much time on their hands.
In response to the SEC scandal, media research firm Nielsen studied the issue and found that 29% of working adults accessed porn on work computers in March this year.
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Americans are spending more and more time shopping online, especially around holiday season. “Cyber Monday,” the Monday immediately following Black Friday (the beginning of most holiday sales), brings workers online more than any other day in the year. Last year, Comscore reported that 52.7% of money spent online on Cyber Monday came from work computers representing a majority and a 2.3 percentage point increase over 2008.
Online shopping at work may be getting even more brazen, with many workers having their purchases delivered straight to their offices to avoid risking a package left at an unattended home.
Photo Credit: Jorge Franganillo
Communication is important among employees of any firm, but sometimes it can go too far. With almost every Web-based e-mail service offering live chat, it’s easy for workers to keep a casual conversation going with any number of friends throughout the workday. And don’t be fooled by the ability to mark your status as “busy” on most chat services; While that might make you feel better, chances are you’re busier with chat than with your work.
Of course, communication among co-workers, and between bosses and employees, can have a very positive effect on how a business is run. A recent study by IBM tracked the online communication habits of more than 2,600 employees and found that those that use the Web to stay in close touch with bosses and colleagues are more productive than those who don’t, bringing in $588 above the average revenue per worker per month while workers who avoided communications accounted for $98 per month below the average.
Photo Credit: Dan Foy
Long Lunch Breaks
The U.S. isn’t Italy or Spain, but some American workers become honorary Spaniards for the two hours that it might sometimes take them to eat their lunch. All it takes is for a couple of employees to get together for lunch at a nearby sit-down restaurant to fall into a black hole of lost productivity during the day.
Long lunches are especially dangerous because they are invariably followed by the food coma that usually sets in a half hour or so after a big meal. Add in a bottle of wine at lunch and there goes the whole afternoon.
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Ever since The Office came on air in the U.S., American workers have been given an endless fountain of material from Jim and Dwight’s antics. From encasing office supplies in Jell-o to wrapping up an entire desk and workspace in Christmas paper, these pranks take time. What’s worse, office pranks usually require coordination among a couple of staffers: You need at least one to distract the target, one to act as lookout for his or her return, and at least one to carry out the prank itself.
About a third of American office workers, or 32%, reported that they had been involved in April Fool’s Day pranks, either initiating them or being on the receiving end, in the last such survey by CareerBuilder in 2008.
Tolerance of office pranks might not last forever though, so play it safe and keep the fun and games to April Fool’s Day or a co-worker’s birthday.
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