To paraphrase the comedian Louis CK, there are two types of people in this world: people who say they waste time at work and dirty liars. According to Salary.com, 9 in 10 employees admit to goofing off during work hours, with over a quarter confessing they do so for more than two hours each day.
Cue horror from bosses up and down the country, as they visualise company dollars being pocketed by unscrupulous employees spending their workdays browsing Facebook or bidding for items on eBay.
Bad luck bosses; the news gets worse. If all your employees are consistently slacking off, it’s almost certainly your own fault. Here’s why:
1. You prioritise presenteeism over productivity
Presenteeism – where employees are valued solely by how much time they physically spend in the office – is a widespread phenomenon amongst companies. Consequently, the average UK employee now works an extra seven and a half hours of unpaid overtime every week.
Take a peek at the nation’s productivity, however, and it becomes clear that all this extra work is worse than useless: the UK’s productivity gap with the rest of the G7 (a group of rich democracies) is currently the worse it’s been since records began.
It has long been known to scientists, and long ignored by employers, that neither the human brain nor the human body is capable of sustaining consistent, high-quality output for eight to ten hours every day.
Managers who promote presenteeism, therefore, incentivise employees to spend hours twiddling their thumbs. In an extra twist, employees who work shorter hours produce more than their desk-squatting peers.
2. You treat all workdays the same
In the Salary.com survey, employees were asked when during the week they wasted the most time. 44% of respondents picked the same time slot. Can you guess what it was?
If you knew the answer was “Friday afternoon” but don’t give your employees an early home-time on that day, you should look into the ‘Pareto Principle’ (also called the 80-20 rule). Synopsis: focus on the most valuable aspects of a business for the greatest payoffs.
Good bosses know the importance of boosting staff morale; it’s a key factor in an employee’s overall productivity. Starting the weekend early is a great way to do this at little to no cost to your business (because employees aren’t working well then anyway).
3. You haven’t established a break culture
When asked why they waste time at work, over half of the surveyed workers cited the need to take occasional breaks to stay productive. If you think that sounds reasonable, it’s because it is. Taking frequent short breaks is the only way we can maintain our focus, ability and interest in a task.
Establishing a break culture requires more than not firing people for making a cup of coffee, however. A designated, comfortable break room, provided drinks and snacks, and managers who lead by example are all important.
Your employees will take breaks regardless. Why not encourage them to take the sort of breaks that will fully reinvigorate and energize them, such as taking a walk outside or having a power nap?
4. Your meetings are too long
Time wasting in the workplace isn’t just employees sending each other emojis on WhatsApp. For almost a quarter of workers, the biggest time sucker is unnecessary meetings. For a further 12%, it’s returning excessive amounts of email. (In comparison, just 4% cited social media as their biggest time-waster.)
Tackling these issues requires a change to company culture. Senior hires need to lead the charge, only calling meetings when they have a clear agenda, and being strict about them running over the allotted time. Another good policy would be to encourage employees to only respond to emails within set time slots every day. After all, if a request is important enough that it cannot wait half a day for a response, the parties should be speaking to each other in person.
5. You’re not incentivising people properly
As a manager, you may be reading this article with a good deal of scepticism. Sure, some employees are high-fliers who could benefit from being encouraged to occasionally recharge. But most time-wasters are just lazy, or bored, or disgruntled. They’re leeching on the company, and need to be stopped.
Well, you’re kind of right. One-fifth of employees in the Salary.com survey did indeed say that they wasted time at work just because they just don’t care that much about their job. But if such attitudes are prevalent amongst your team, you’ll still need to take the blame. Why? Because either your workplace sucks, or your hiring policy does.
Assuming you hire competent workers, you need to accept that any de-motivation among them can most likely be attributed to workplace policies. Solicit feedback on how morale and productivity could be improved, and implement it!
What’s the alternative?
Bosses who feel they’re being held hostage by workers demanding ever-shorter workdays and ever- longer breaks are missing the point. Your employees are hired to do a job, and those that do not adequately do that job should be reprimanded and eventually let go. But shift your focus from how they work to how well they work.
Agree KPIs, targets and other performance measures with your employees, and then trust them to manage their own time and approach in getting those tasks done. Reward people for their dedication, creativity and ideas, not whether they can be found at their desk from 8-6pm.
About the author: Beth Leslie is a professional career advice and lifestyle writer. She is currently a writer and blog editor for Inspiring Interns.