Commentary & Opinion

How Much Wasted Work Time Is Too Much?

By Jon Hyman

Aug. 16, 2017

According to a recent survey conducted by OfficeTeam, on average, employees spend eight hours per workweek on nonwork activities.

What does this non-work time look like?

  • Personal emails: 30 percent
  • Social networks: 28 percent
  • Sports sites: 8 percent
  • Mobile games: 6 percent
  • Online shopping: 5 percent
  • Entertainment sites: 3 percent
Moreover, try as they might to regulate this activity, employers fail. The same survey reports that 58 percent of employees simply use their personal mobile devices at work to access websites blocked by their employers — a 36-point jump from OfficeTeam’s last survey in 2012.
So, what is an employer to do? I say embrace the distraction. As I’ve long argued:

Employers that try regulate personal social media use out of the workplace are fighting a Sisyphean battle. I call it the iPhone-ification of the American workforce. No matter your policy trying to regulate or outright ban social media in your workplace, if your employees can take their smartphones out of their pockets to circumvent the policy, how can you possibly police workplace social media access? Why have a policy you cannot police and enforce?

Instead of regulating an issue you cannot hope to control, treat employees’ use of social media for what it is—a performance issue. If an employee is not performing up to standards because he or she is spending too much time on the internet, then address the performance problem. Counsel, discipline, and ultimately terminate if the performance does not improve. A slacking employee, however, will not become a star performer just because you limit his or her social media access; he or she will just find another way to slack off. Instead of wasting your resources to fight a battle you cannot win, reapportion them to win battles worth fighting.

We ask so much of our employees. The 9-to-5 is no longer relevant. If my employee, who is giving up night and weekends for me, wants to spends a few minutes during the workday posting to Facebook, or checking the score of last night’s game, or buying something on Amazon, I just don’t care (unless you are working in a safety-sensitive position, and then why the hell are you on your phone at all‽), unless and until it reaches the level of distraction and impacts performance. Then, however, we are treating the performance problem, not the technology problem, which is the appropriate and practical solution.

So, how much wasted work-time is too much? To me, the answer is only when it hinders performance. Otherwise, I say read your Game of Thrones recaps and post those cute back-to-school photos of your kids (did I just divulge too much?)

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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