The average employee wastes about 20 percent of the workday, with young people the most likely to be slacking off, according to a new survey.
The 2007 Wasting Time Survey by Salary.com, which asked 2,000 employees across all job levels about how they spend their working hours, found employees waste an average of 1.7 hours of an 8.5-hour workday. This represents a decline from last year, when workers reported wasting an average of 1.89 hours each day.
In this year's survey, 20- to 29-year-olds said they waste an average of 2.1 hours per day. The amount of idle time drops off as employees grow older, with the 30-39 age group reporting 1.9 hours of the day wasted and 40- to 49-year-olds reporting 1.4 hours.
"Older employees tend to have a very strong work ethic," said Bill Coleman, Salary.com's chief compensation officer. Coleman added that more seasoned workers understand certain humdrum office tasks, like all-day meetings, have value that may not be readily apparent.
"The under-30 crowd is so used to instant feedback that that kind of thing to them seems to be wasting time," Coleman said. "I think they have a higher standard for what efficient or effective use of time is."
Reasons given for wasting time point to that differing standard. While 13.9 percent said they slack off because their hours are too long, large segments also reported that they don't have enough work to do (17.7 percent) or their work isn't challenging enough (11.1 percent).
"I think the whole HR community needs to realize that kids these days have grown up in a different environment," Coleman said.
The younger generation is used to multi-tasking and working with a lot of distractions, according to Coleman. When they don't achieve instantaneous results on work-related duties, young employees get bored and turn to other tasks. "I think that developing systems that work well and keep that kind of person engaged are going to be critical in creating the next crop of future leaders," he said.
The top time-wasting activities included using the Internet for non-work related purposes, socializing with co-workers, and conducting personal business. Many times, however, these seemingly idle tasks are actually beneficial, Coleman said. For example, talking to a co-worker about last night's American Idol results may appear completely irrelevant, but it helps build camaraderie among employees who will then work better together in the future.
Moreover, employees who use the 9-to-5 workday to carry out personal tasks like arranging a doctor's appointment often continue working on their laptops after they leave the office. "Yes, you're doing personal business on work time but you're also doing work business on personal time," Coleman said. "People are creating their own flexible schedules."
In the end, it's up to managers to determine when employees are taking breaks to do other tasks and when they're actually wasting the company's time. "What the company should be doing is training the managers to make sure they understand what people are doing, how they're doing it, and what they should be accomplishing," Coleman said.