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Why do People Waste so Much Time at the Office?

Posted by Jessica Miller-Merrell

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Think about an average day of work or even just an hour. What do you do during that day or specific hour? Most likely, we all have to admit that we spend time on tasks that wouldn’t be considered productive.

Doing Other Tasks at Work

Most employees spend a considerable amount of time doing everything but actually working. They may spend this time doing something as simple as getting lost in thought or something as deliberate as repetitively checking social media, chatting with coworkers, making travel plans or taking care of personal business like paying bills.

Often, our work seems to monopolize more and more of our time. The activities we generally would accomplish away from the office begin to monopolize our work, creating a vicious cycle where the two continue to cut into each other. However, the same can also be said for our personal lives. Many employees bring work projects home, which takes away from our time off; this makes us feel like we are working constantly. To some degree, we are. The lines between our work life and personal life seem to blur as they extend into each other.

What Can We Do About Blurring Work and Leisure?

How do we stop this overflow? What if we picked up the pieces of our personal life and work life and put each item in its place, redrawing a more definitive line between the two areas. While this may not be feasible in every case, it would allow many of us to make a significant difference in our productivity and wellbeing. So how do we get there? As management and HR professionals, we can take several key steps toward redefining work and personal life to help employees to separate the two.

Typical productivity comes in short bursts, not in long, drawn-out periods of time. Between those bursts is where we commonly find ourselves getting lost in distractions. In many cases, management and HR has the ability to step in and make changes to discourage distractions. Changes can be as simple as communicating and enforcing policies that reduce distractions. Management and HR professionals can assist by creating incentive or rewarding those who stay on task.

Some employers have policies banning the use of personal-communication devices, email, or Internet for personal use. Others block social-media sites or monitor the websites visited by their employees. In certain situations, all of these methods may prove valuable, although their overuse could affect or even debilitate a company’s culture. This is where it is important for HR and management to maintain a clear understanding of their organization’s culture. They must also be able to communicate effectively with employees to give them clear expectations and guidelines.

No two company cultures are the same. Every organization should approach the minimization of distractions in a way that will be best for the culture of their specific organization. In taking this approach, organizations will be able to minimize the amount of time wasted by employees throughout the workday. As a result, companies will experience higher levels of productivity and even morale, especially when eliminating time-wasting allows personal time to remain separate from work. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important, but in determining the amount of time and effort to spend on each aspect, employees will be encouraged to separate each aspect of work life and personal life more effectively.

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About Jessica Miller-Merrell

Author

Jessica is listed as the 2nd most influential recruiter online and as the 8th most powerful woman on Twitter. She is the author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, a how-to business guide for Twitter users. She also writes for a number of leading publications, including Fortune, HR Magazine, SmartBrief, and HR Executive Magazine.

4 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Maryka Green July, 23, 2015

    I know the problem, as I suffered from low productivity and a low salary for a long time. Facebook excursions took more than one hour and coffee breaks turned into long discussions with colleagues. But then I established a rule: no Facebook until 6 p.m., start a day earlier and with the most difficult task at hand, and don’t take more than 20-minute breaks. It helped.

  • Phil J. July, 26, 2015

    Yes, we should never forget about motivation. It is like fuel to fire. Over time, people forget about their goals and get bored. Motivational movies, speeches, and practices of sharing experience should become an important part of a typical workflow. If people know what they are working for, they don’t look for entertainment in Google. Their job is entertainment. 

  • Susan D. August, 15, 2015

    Employees and their managers need goals and incentives for accomplishing their work. If there are no consequences for goofing off, goofing off will be the way at least some segment of employees approach their work. At the same time, as noted in the article, overuse of surveillance or blocking social media sites could also debilitate company culture. And not every minute is going to be productive. At times we actually do need to be able to be lost in thought–and it is hoped that we are lost in thought about projects we are working on for work, not lost in thought about all of our personal concerns. There needs to be some regular way of checking in about goals, motivation, accomplishment, and where the group is supposed to be headed. A lot of this burden falls on the manager and upon management generally. Part of performance expectations also can be about how employees motivate themselves and how they set goals for accomplishment.

  • Diana N. September, 27, 2015

    YES, Phil J., you are right on point. “If people know what they are working for, they don’t look for entertainment in Google. Their job is entertainment.” That is EXACTLY what I have been try to push at the law firm where I work. As an HR Director in a law firm, I’ve been searching for ways to engage our staff by making them feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. I’ve found that law firms are very different though, in that the work product and goals are confidential and segmented, and I’ve hit a brick wall. If anyone has suggestions, I’d be grateful if you could share them.

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