Work Zone: Workers admit to goofing off on the job

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How much time do you spend goofing off on the job?

Workers in one recent poll admitted to wasting an average of nearly two hours a day on company time.

The No. 1 distraction was surfing the Internet, followed by socializing with co-workers, according to the 2006 survey by Salary.com and America Online. Other top time wasters were running errands, spacing out, making personal phone calls and arriving late or leaving early, according to the poll of roughly 2,700 people.

Two hours may seem like a lot of time, but at least one local expert wasn't surprised.

"I've seen similar kinds of information from various other sources," said Gary Florkowski, associate professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh. "The vast majority of e-tailing happens during traditional business hours."

The villain isn't the Internet, however, he said. People likely aren't wasting anymore time at work now than they did 15 years ago before there was widespread access to the Internet.

"There is nothing to suggest a fundamental change in the time people spend doing personal things on work time," Dr. Florkowski said.

Before the Internet, people simply relied more on other ways of attending to personal business, he said, such as making phone calls and cutting out early.

People who really like their jobs tend to do less loafing than people who aren't all that fond of their work and are "just putting in time," said Robert Kelley, adjunct professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University.

"People who come to work with a purpose are less likely to be distracted," he said. The most time gets wasted in situations where "the job and the person are not a good match."

Should employees feel ashamed about frittering away time on the job?

Depends.

In a follow-up survey by Salary.com, employers said they assumed a certain amount of loafing -- an average of almost one hour a day -- when setting employee pay.

Daniel Marsula, Post-Gazette

Click illustration for larger image.   
Wasted at Work

Workers admit to spending an average of 1.86 hours a day loafing on the job, according to a 2006 survey by Salary.com and America Online. The top time-wasting activities:

Surfing the Internet: 52 percent

Socializing with co-workers: 26.3 percent

Running errands: 7.6 percent

Spacing out: 6.6 percent

Making personal phone calls: 3.9 percent

Arriving late/leaving early: 2.9 percent

Applying for other jobs: 0.7 percent

   

Dr. Kelley, author of the 1998 book "How to Be a Star at Work," said that occasionally goofing off isn't always bad because it can make people more productive in the long run.

"Sometimes people are just stuck on what they are doing and need a little break," he said. "Reading a newspaper or surfing the Net helps give you a break. Then you come back to work refreshed and get back on task."

Dr. Kelley suspects that the Salary.com survey overestimated the amount of time that most people squander on the job.

"These surveys are done by a select group of people surfing the Net and already wasting time," he said.

In any case, the way time is spent at work is becoming less important because of the project nature of work these days, he said.

"People increasingly are doing work off-site, at home, in a car, on airplanes, so tracking time is less likely to matter."

When it comes to worries about excessive Internet use, managers typically react by stepping up monitoring or using filters to block access to certain sites. But that often doesn't work, Dr. Kelley said.

"If somebody wants or needs to be distracted, they will find other ways," he said.

People can train themselves to be more productive by coming into work with clear goals for the day and only using Internet surfing or another distraction as a reward for a job well done, Dr. Kelley said.

"Rather than making that [personal] phone call when it pops into your head, say 'I have to finish this task and then I'll make that phone call,' " he said.

To help avoid the temptation to surf the Internet, people should turn off their computer screen when they aren't using it so "it's not beckoning," Dr. Kelley said.

Companies can help productivity by making sure employees have enough work to do, feel challenged and feel fairly compensated.

For employees who still find they are consistently wasting time, it may be time to get a new job, Dr. Kelley said.

"Ask what it is about my work that I don't like and try looking for a different kind of job."


Patricia Sabatini can be reached at psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.


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