Wasted Time At Work Still Costing Companies Billions in 2006

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

Time wasted by employees at work is down from 2005, but it is still costing companies billions in 2006. According to the 2nd annual survey by America Online and Salary.com, the average worker admits to squandering 1.86 hours per 8-hour workday, not including lunch and scheduled break-time, which is down from 2.09 hours in 2005. As a matter of practice, companies assume a certain amount of wasted time when determining employee pay. However, the 2nd installment of the survey indicates that employees are continuing to waste about twice as much time as their employers expect. Salary.com calculates that employers spend $544 billion per year on salaries for which real work is expected, but none is done.


The biggest distraction for respondents was personal Internet use. 52.0% of the 2,700 people polled cited web surfing as their #1 distraction at work. Socializing with co-workers came in second at 26.3%. Conducting personal business, "spacing out," running errands, and making personal phone calls were the other popular time-wasting activities in the workplace. To compare the numbers, view the top time-wasting activities from 2005.

Top Time-Wasting Activities
1 Surfing Internet (personal use)
2 Socializing with co-workers
3 Running errands off-premises
4 Spacing out
5 Making personal phone calls
6 Arriving late / Leaving early
7 Applying for other jobs


Are workers really expected to work 8 hours per day, non-stop? According to a Salary.com follow-up survey of Human Resource managers, companies assume that employees will waste 0.94 hours per day. They take this into account when they do their compensation planning. However, those managers privately suspect that employees waste 1.6 hours per day. In fact, employees admit to wasting 1.86 hours per day. Thus, the gap between what HR suspects and actual time wasted at work is narrowing from 2005 to 2006.

Time Wasted During an
8-Hour Workday
Number of Hours/Day
Assumed by HR0.94 hrs.
Suspected by HR1.60 hrs.
Admitted by Employees1.86 hrs.


The average yearly American salary is $35,062 per year - or $16.86 per hour. If the average worker wastes .92 hours more than employers suspect, per 8-hour work day, that adds up to $4,030 per year, per worker in wasted salary dollars. So with the current American workforce being 135 million (non-farm) employees, the total in lost salary dollars adds up to $544 billion per year.

Adding It All UpPer HourPer DayPer Year
Average hrs. American worker actually wastes 1.86 hrs. 
Average hrs. American workers are expected to waste by HR .94 hrs. 
Difference between expected and actual time wasted
 .92 hrs.239 hrs.
Average American worker's annual salary
Total salary dollars wasted per employee
Total number of American workers (non-farm)
  135 million
Total salary cost to companies
  $544 billion
Note: Time-wasted figures are based on an 8-hour workday (2080 hrs. per year)

Some employees told us different ways they waste their time at work, such as sleeping, reading, or writing poetry. Other employees bring crossword puzzles to the office. However, staring blankly at the computer screen remains to be quite a popular choice.

So, while you are here reading this article, take some more time to surf the web and look at the Salary Wizard and Personal Salary Report, or maybe socialize with co-workers. Just remember to keep an eye on the clock!


America Online and Salary.com conducted research relating to time wasted at work among 2,706 respondents during July, 2006. Populations surveyed included AOL users and corporate human resource professionals. Respondents were asked to indicate how much time they wasted in an average workday, assuming a workweek consisting of five 8-hour days. Data was analyzed by Salary.com's team of Certified Compensation Professionals.