Wasting Time at Work 2012

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: March 15, 2012

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

A Facebook status update here, a Tweet there and maybe you find that perfect dinner recipe on Pinterest. In this day and age most jobs require a computer, most computers have the Internet and distractions to workers are plentiful. But how much time do employees waste on visiting personal websites that aren't work-related during the day? And on a more philosophical note, should that really be considered a "waste" of time?

We surveyed more than 3,200 people from February to March 2012 to find out.

Blame It on the Internet

As you can probably imagine in this era of constant connectivity, the Internet is forever at our disposal via laptops, smartphones and tablets. Ideally, that's fantastic news for people who want to take their work with them wherever they go. But the flip side is the constant temptation to slack off.

Of the people we surveyed, 64 percent said they visit non-work related websites every day during work hours. However, that number is down nearly 10 percent from the last time we conducted this survey in 2008. 

With so many jobs lost in the last four years, it's likely employees have less time to waste because they're spending more time on their added job responsibilities.

How Much Time is Too Much?

With almost two-thirds of all respondents reporting they waste time at work on the computer each day, the next obvious question is how much time?

Thirty-nine percent of the people who took our survey said they spend a mere 1 hour a week or less on non-work related items. That’s followed by 29 percent who spend up to 2 hours a week wasting time on the computer at work, and 21 percent who waste up to 5 hours a week. Only 3 percent of respondents spend  10 hours or more on personal tasks while at work in a given week.

What Websites are Employees Visiting?

We asked our 3,200 respondents what websites they visit if they do stray from work-related tasks. Most people spend time checking their personal email, visiting news sites, performing Google searches, monitoring social media and shopping online.

It probably comes as no surprise Facebook topped the list. The social media behemoth with nearly 850 million users worldwide is visited by 41 percent of our respondents. That’s followed closely by LinkedIn at 37 percent, Yahoo at 31 percent, Google+ at 28 percent and Amazon.com with 25 percent.

Twitter ranked near the bottom at a mere 8 percent. And even though Pinterest has been garnering a lot of media attention lately, only 4 percent of our respondents currently use the service.

Why Waste Time?

We're Salary.com, which means we tend to focus a lot on compensation. So if employees are wasting time instead of working, it stands to reason they might be doing it because they're underpaid, right? Wrong.

Of the top six reasons why employees waste time at work, being underpaid ranked dead last at 18 percent. Most employees -- 35 percent -- said they waste time at work because they're not challenged enough. That was followed closely by the 34 percent of employees who claimed they waste time because their hours are too long, 32 percent whose company gives them no incentive to work harder, and 30 percent who are unsatisfied.

Additionally, 23 percent of respondents said they waste time at work simply because they're bored.

Breaking Down the Numbers

Men waste more time than women at work. More than two-thirds -- 69 percent -- of men reported using the Internet for personal reasons during work hours on a daily basis, compared to 62 percent of women.

And even though it's assumed by many that young people spend more time on websites that aren't work related during the workday, that's not the case. Workers between the ages of 26-35 topped the list with 75 percent wasting time at work on a daily basis, compared to the 72 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds. Daily Internet use at work dropped off among older workers with 65 percent of people age 36-45, 58 percent of people age 46-55 and 55 percent of people 56 and older wasting time on the Internet while at work every day.

Even among those who waste more than 10 hours a week at work, the 18-25 group comes in third (15 percent) behind workers 26-35 (35 percent) and 36-45 (29 percent).

Does Education = Wasteful?

Although it's never a waste of time to get a good education, our survey shows the more educated you are the more time you waste at work.

Only 59 percent of high school graduates reported wasting time at work on a daily basis. Compare that to the 67 percent of respondents with doctorate degrees. Those with PhDs are followed closely by people with bachelor's degrees at 66 percent, and those who have earned master's degrees at 65 percent. 

One reason for the disparity could be that people with college degrees and higher levels of education are generally promoted to managerial and supervisory roles.

Restricting Access Might Backfire

Thirty percent of respondents said personal sites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked at work. Unfortunately for the companies that block personal websites, their efforts might be fruitless because 60 percent of the people surveyed said they would simply use their own smartphones, tablets and laptops to access personal websites during work hours.

A recent report by KPMG International addressed the ramifications of employers choosing to block personal websites at work.

“Executives may be naïve in thinking that banned access to social networks eliminates employee use,” suggested Tudor Aw, KPMG’s European head of Technology. “Indeed, the survey shows that by restricting or blocking access, many employees tend to move their activity to their own personal devices which are often less secure and completely unmonitored.”

No Access? No Big Deal

With social media ingrained into the everyday lives of most workers, how do employees feel about not being able to access their personal sites?

Apparently it's not a big deal.

A whopping 79 percent of people who took our survey said they simply don't care whether or not employers block certain websites, and that it would not affect their decision to work there. And while 18 percent said the restrictions would make them look unfavorably on the company in question, 4 percent said the company's no-nonsense approach actually makes it a more attractive place to work.

Job-Hunting on the Job

Although 70 percent of respondents said their employers don't put any restrictions for online use in place, maybe companies do have some valid fears.

Businesses pay millions of dollars every year to retain employees and cut down on turnover costs. Therefore those companies might have a problem with the fact that nearly half -- 46 percent -- of those surveyed said they've spent time job hunting during work hours and on company computers.

Wasted Time Occurs Offline Too

Companies that solely blame the Internet for wasted time aren't seeing the big picture, and might benefit from a look in the mirror.

Only 18 percent of those surveyed listed the Internet as a time-waster. The biggest waste of time, according to 47 percent of our respondents, is having to attend too many meetings. That's followed by dealing with office politics (43 percent), fixing other peoples' mistakes (37 percent), coping with annoying coworkers (36 percent), busy work (22 percent) and returning an abundance of work emails (20 percent).

Dealing with bosses came in last at a mere 14 percent.

Is "Waste" the Wrong Word?

With all this talk of "wasting time" during work by checking Facebook, chatting with coworkers, etc., it's a worthwhile question to ask: are those things truly time-wasters?

Not according to the people who took our survey.

Nearly three-quarters -- 71 percent -- of respondents said they believe short breaks throughout the day are beneficial. By being able to check Facebook, Twitter and have periods of brief downtime throughout the workday, those surveyed said they believe employees will actually be more productive than if restrictions are placed on them.

More Employers Recognizing Cultural Shift

Rudy Karsan, CEO of Kenexa (Salary.com's parent company), was a guest on Salary Talk last year and spoke on this very topic.

"Basically, younger workers are coming in and saying 'I'm going to be at my desk, I'll continue working, then I'm going to get distracted by doing some shopping or watching YouTube, then I'll come back and do my job.' Back and forth, in and out. When we start to do that we're really blending our lives together with work. I applaud it and hope we never lose that, because that's natural for us." 

Karsan, along with many other employers, recognizes the cultural shift taking place and sees the value in creating a "Work-Life Blend" as opposed to a balance. More employees than ever are answering work emails via smartphone well after they've left the office, so a little downtime during the workday becomes no big deal.

Which means next year we might have to change the title of this survey!

Recommended Reading

To read more information about this topic, please try one of the following books:

  • We: How to Increase Performance & Profits Through Full Engagement
  • Human Resources Guide to Social Media Risks
  • Social Media ROI: Managing & Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization
  • Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live & Do Business
  • Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust