Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Show Me The Land of the Slackers

July 12th, 2005 | Paula Brantner

It’s official: I come from the land of the slackers. My home state of Missouri has been crowned #1 in slacking at work in a recent survey, with a whopping average of 3 hours and 12 minutes a day spent on non-work-related tasks. What’s the number one time-waster? The survey says it’s “personal Internet use,” with 44% of participants clicking on that response. It’s a good thing it’s part of my job to be on the Internet all day long, surveying the latest and greatest workplace trends and studies (like this one, of course.)

Ever on the lookout to pinpoint anything standing in the way of automatonic productivity, there are those in the business community who are quite eager to learn what workers are doing all day long when they’re not devoting every last fiber of their being to their employers. Hence, a survey was born to glean what workers are really doing when they appear to be preparing reports, making their boss look good, or otherwise working productively. (See Associated Press article.)

You might expect a website like Salary.com to sponsor this kind of survey: the site bills itself as “one of the most widely recognized destinations for those seeking reliable information about employee pay levels and compensation-related best practices, trends, and policies.” (See Salary.com About Us.) However, there’s another firm with an interest in the results, and not because of worker productivity, but indeed quite the opposite: America Online I’m sure they’re not too disappointed to learn that so much of the slack time is spent on personal Internet usage, no sirree.

Of course, the survey results might also be skewed by the fact that the survey was posted on AOL’s Find a Job website and Salary.com’s Salary Wizard. Is it so surprising that when you have a disgruntled employee looking for a new job — who just happens to already be conducting personal business on the Internet — takes part in this kind of survey, that the results turned out the way they did?

Some of the other prime time-wasters: while more than 44 percent of the 10,000# workers said the primary way they waste time at work is personal Internet use, like reading e-mail, instant messages, playing interactive games (and responding to online polls.), the second most popular was socializing with co-workers (23%). Other excuses included conducting personal business, spacing out, running errands and making personal phone calls. What surprised me about the results (aside from the Missouri = slacker correlation) was that employers already expect employees to waste at least an hour a day already, according to Salary.com’s survey of HR managers. (See CNN/Money article.) However, workers nationally are taking twice as much time as their employers expect, 2.09 hours of wasted time on average, which costs companies an estimated $759 billion a year.

Before you go feeling too sorry for employers who aren’t getting their money’s worth, you should know that the same respondents who confessed to all that slacking, said the number one reason for doing so was “not enough work to do.” The second reason was justification for the self-help remedy employed for “I’m underpaid for the work I do. Yet another top reason is also something employers should take a look at: not enough evening and weekend time. Given how the American workweek, already longer than that of most industrialized nations, keeps expanding, this shows that all that extra time spent at the office isn’t necessarily benefiting the employer all that much.

But as a Missourian, I’m relieved didn’t have to wait long for someone to avenge our state’s honor. Governor Matt Blunt had this to say: “Nobody can match the work ethic of Missourians. This survey, which our busiest citizens did not want to waste their time on, cannot undermine decades of experience. Missouri workers are among the most productive in the world.” (See Statement from Governor Matt Blunt.)

If you’re not too busy to take the survey, it’s still available at Salary.com. Go ahead and take it, unless you’re from Missouri, in which case, it’s time to “show me” that Midwestern work ethic by getting off the computer.

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