How much time do you waste at work?

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Sabrina Almeida

Being hunched over your desk at the office doesn’t necessarily mean that you are working! Whether it is staying connected with your social media circle, catching up with personal tasks (running errands or making phone calls) or just browsing the net—there are a significant number of distractions that can negatively impact your productivity. Including coffee and smoke breaks or chats with colleagues about your night out or weekend trip.

We don’t need a study to tell us this. Many of us are guilty or know more than one person who fritters away time in the office. However, crunching the numbers might make us less indulgent.

A recent survey by OfficeTeam points out how much of time Canadian professionals waste. According to the staffing firm with 300 locations worldwide, Canadians spent an average of 43 minutes a day (almost 4 hours a week) using devices for non-work activities and an additional 40 minutes a day (almost 7 hours a week) on personal tasks.

The numbers for the 18-34 age group were slightly higher, with 58 minutes on mobile devices and 52 minutes on activities unrelated to work.

I’m not surprised. One young man I know spent much of his day watching soccer matches during the 2014 FIFA world cup. His justification—there wasn’t enough work!!! He’s not the only one and his reason could be a valid one.

To prevent time wasting, many workplaces have banned social media and certain web pages, as the survey confirmed. Employees in such situations, however, may simply turn to their personal devices to gain access to these sites. One South Asian gentleman took his mobile to the washroom where he could not be monitored.

An Australian survey conducted earlier this year also revealed that Canadians weren’t the only distracted lot. Interestingly 48% of Australians surveyed wasted their day talking to colleagues. Social media usage (39%) and cleaning the workspace (30%) to avoid working were other factors which affected their productivity. Simply doing nothing (28%) and taking long breaks (27%) rounded off the big five reasons for time wastage at work.

A Hindustan Times report on the subject, a couple of years ago, stated that the work ethic of Delhiites was most compromised, followed by Kolkata at 42%. Not a shocker if you have ever had the pleasure of dealing with any Indian government agency or bank, and no matter the state. Goans are known for being susegad (laid back) and not just in their personal lives.

Sociologists and psychologists agree that lack of motivation (or engagement), boredom and doing work one does not like are some of the main factors for loss of productivity. That and individuals who have perfected the art of shirking work while appearing to look extremely busy and overburdened, I might add.

Not surprising that after decades of allowing its employees to work from home, IBM changed course in early February. While more in-person collaboration was cited as the reason, reduced productivity caused by the distractions mentioned above could have been a contributing factor.

Employees misusing this given latitude is the reason many public and private organizations in Canada have withdrawn the work-from-home privilege. Friends who are employed at the different ministries often share stories of colleagues that are ‘missing in action’ (not reachable) when utilizing the home office.

That is not to say that all who telecommute are less productive. There are always exceptions to rule… and the greater the accountability, the lesser the chances of truancy.

There’s no doubt that even the hardest worker among us can get distracted or that workaholics should be encouraged to take a break. While business owners and company management might quickly shift the blame to their employees, experts say leadership must shoulder some degree of responsibility. Setting expectations from the beginning, challenging and engaging staff might help reduce if not completely eradicate the problem. It’s the major difference between a business owner and an employee. The former is invested.

However, as Andre Lavoie, CEO of ClearCompany (a talent management solutions firm) wrote in an article on the subject, the worst thing employers could do was to take a restrictive approach like blocking websites, micromanaging tasks or tracking time.

Not only will this be time-consuming but employees are likely to find a way out.

Non-work distractions will always claim a certain amount of an employee’s time. How much… really depends on you. In the end, the lost effort not only costs your employer but is likely to impact your career as well.

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