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New Survey Shows Time's a Wastin'—Workers Goof Off more than Two Hours a Day

According to a Web survey by America Online and Salary.com, the average worker admits to frittering away 2.09 hours per day, not counting lunch. Over the course of a year (and even after accounting for time employers expect to be wasted), that adds up to $759 billion in salaries for which companies receive no apparent benefit. Interestingly, the insurance industry leads in time wasted, with the average employee admitting to wasting 2.5 hours per day.

The research involved more than 10,044 employee respondents. Nearly 45% indicated that the number one way they waste time at work is personal Internet use (email, IM, online polls, interactive games, message boards, chat rooms, etc.). Socializing with co-workers was the second most popular form of wasting time at work (23.4% of respondents). Conducting personal business, “spacing out,” running errands and making personal phone calls were other popular workplace time-wasting activities.

But are workers really expected to work non-stop, eight hours a day? According to a follow-up survey of corporate Human Resource managers, employers actually expect employees to waste some time—about an hour per day—in addition to the worker’s lunch hour. “A certain amount of slacking off is already built into the salary structure,” says Bill Coleman, senior vice president at Salary.com. “Our survey shows that workers on average are wasting a little more than twice what their employers expect. That’s a startling figure. Although in some cases this extra wasted time might be considered ‘creative waste’ – time that may well have a positive impact on the company’s culture, work environment and even business results. Personal Internet use and casual office conversations often turn into new business ideas or suggestions for gaining operating efficiencies.”

“It’s interesting to note that the Internet was cited as the leading time-wasting activity. It goes to show how integrated it has become to the daily functions of our personal and professional lives,” said Samara Jaffe, Director of Careers/AOL Find a Job. “Today, there are so many useful tools and Websites on the Internet that have enabled people to become more efficient with accomplishing multiple tasks in a shorter amount of time."

The AOL and Salary.com survey results offer a glimpse into how employees waste time, why they do it, where they live, and where they work:

Top Time-Wasting Activities   Top Excuses for Time-Wasting Activities
Activities % of Time-Wasters Excuses % of Time-Wasters
1. Surfing Internet (personal use)
2. Socializing with co-workers
3. Conducting personal business
4. Spacing out
5. Running errands off-premises
6. Making personal phone calls
7. Applying for other jobs
8. Planning personal events
9. Arriving late / Leaving early
10. Other
1. Don’t have enough work to do
2. Underpaid for amount of work I do
3. Co-workers distract me
4. Not enough evening or weekend time
5. Other
Top Time-Wasting States   Top Time-Wasting Industries
States Time-Wasted* Industries Time-Wasted*
1. Missouri
2. Indiana
3. Kentucky
4. Wisconsin
5. Nevada
6. Oklahoma
7. Virginia
8. Pennsylvania
9. Connecticut
10. Idaho
3.2 hrs/day
2.8 hrs/day
2.8 hrs/day
2.8 hrs/day
2.7 hrs/day
2.7 hrs/day
2.7 hrs/day
2.6 hrs/day
2.5 hrs/day
2.5 hrs/day
1. Insurance
2. Public Sector (Non-Education)
3. Research & Development
4. Education
5. Software & Internet
6. Specialized Trades
7. Automotive (Non-Manufacturing)
8. Retail
9. Marketing & Communications
10. Finance & Banking
2.5 hrs/day
2.4 hrs/day
2.3 hrs/day
2.2 hrs/day
2.2 hrs/day
2.1 hrs/day
2.1 hrs/day
2.1 hrs/day
2.0 hrs/day
1.8 hrs/day
* Average hours wasted -- per person, per day.

Here are some other interesting facts about time wasted at work:

  • Men vs. Women: Men and women waste about the same amount of time per day (approximately 2.1 hours). This was true despite the fact that most HR managers surveyed suspected that women waste more time at work than men.
  • Youngsters vs. Seniors: As the following statistics show, the older you are, the less time you waste at work:

Year of Birth Wasted Hrs/Day (Avg.)
1930-1949 0.50 hrs/day
1950-1959 0.68 hrs/day
1960-1969 1.19 hrs/day
1970-1979 1.61 hrs/day
1980-1985 1.95 hrs/day

Survey Methodology
America Online and Salary.com conducted in-depth research relating to time wasted at work, among 10,044 respondents (including AOL.com users, AOL members, Salary Wizard users, and corporate human resources professionals). Through a survey on the AOL Find a Job site, respondents were asked to indicate how much time they wasted in an average workday, assuming a 40-hour (8-hour per day) workweek. Demographic information (including respondent geography, job category and gender) was also collected in the study. Data were analyzed by Salary.com's team of Certified Compensation Professionals.

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