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« Singers and Songwriters | Main | America: Open 24/7 »

August 04, 2006

Time Off at the Office

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

An AOL/ survey reveals that American office workers spend an average of 2.09 hours a day slacking. Their number one distraction? Surfing the web. Older employees goof off less than younger ones. Gals and guys slack equally. People in insurance offices take it easiest; employees in Shipping and Receiving are busiest. Missouri is the goofingest-off state, South Carolina (!) the least. Nice line in the report:

If you are guilty of wasting a little time at work, and reading this far may indicate that you are ...

No information in the study about how many of these millions of slacked-off hours are devoted to blogging and blog-surfing.



posted by Michael at August 4, 2006


Chatting with co-workers is another big form of slacking-off.

Posted by: Peter on August 4, 2006 10:17 PM

I literally quit my job as a result of my blogging. I was still getting my work done (and in fact my boss thought of me as a good employee). But inside I knew I was spending way too much time blogging (and reading up on things). Work was almost an afterthought. It was a good job too, but I just couldn't make peace with the fact that I was stealing time and money from my company.

I quit my job to work on more creative things. Ironically, now that I am on sabbatical, I am doing very little blogging; I am spending time working on more interesting projects. Blogging is a creative outlet for job frustration. But it is like being in prison; you find things to occupy your time, but you'd much rather have your freedom.

Posted by: lazy person on August 5, 2006 12:52 AM

To quote myself:

For those of us who work as “covert intellectuals” in the workplace, taking subversive political and social positions, finding the daily outrage to blog about or the latest online philosophical conundrum to cogitate over, the key question is whether this intellectual energy and empowerment ultimately make it easier to deal with the money-obsessed workworld or only increases our alienation from it. One delightful essay called web-surfing-at-work the ultimate “opiate of the masses,” calling it a reward for having to endure the soulless world of business. I laughed at that when I read it, thinking it a delightful pseudo-rationalization for sloth at the workplace. As the years go by, I have to wonder whether the clandestine nature of work surfing causes the thinker’s voice to diminish. When people seek academic jobs, what they are really seeking is a way to maintain a public identity; it gives one the right to be a gadfly or a bohemian and not get fired. The high tech boom has provided extraordinary opportunities for flexible educated workers (though it has its downsides ), as well as a tolerance for workplace diversity. I may be the only blogger in my group of technical writers, but the rest of us have equally diverse interests. In many ways, our workplace conditions are more conducive to intellectual cogitation than an academic niche. How long I feel this way is yet to be determined.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on August 5, 2006 1:11 AM

I wonder if Europeans slack off less, and if there is a correlation with the fact that American workers spend more hours on the job than their European counterparts.

Hypothesizing, I'd say that American bosses are more concerned about worker productivity than European bosses. Unfortunately, true productivity is notoriously hard to measure, so instead bosses measure working hours as a substitute (if I understand, economists call this "signalling").

Not willing to work any harder than reasonable, the American workers relax a little more in the workplace.

Just guesses, but I wonder.

Posted by: Tom West on August 5, 2006 7:56 AM

During the last eight years I worked as a state employee before retiring in 2003 I managed a section with around 30 employees, most of them women. It was during this period that computers hit the state workforce in a big way, with pretty much everyone having internet access by 1999. Surprisingly, I found that the internet made very little difference in the amount of time people spent goofing off. Before they had internet access, the employees goofed off by talking on the phone endlessly. After the internet came along some of this phone time was redirected to the internet, but I think the actual time wasted remained fairly constant.

Posted by: Michael P on August 5, 2006 10:04 AM

Missouri! Wouldn'ya jus' know it?!

Posted by: ricpic on August 5, 2006 10:28 AM

I agree with Michael P. People goofed off before the Internet and would still find ways to goof off if the boss banned Internet surfing at work. (I used to spend my 2.09 hours playing Mahjongg.)

Posted by: Lynn S on August 6, 2006 4:34 PM

Interesting subject. Verrry interesting. I retire at the end of this month. Perhaps I'll talk about it then.

Or not.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 6, 2006 8:32 PM

I don't consider it goofing off.

Every workplace is now so paranoid that speaking about anything except the weather is a very bad idea.

First, the old contract between worker and employer is dead. No loyalty in either direction. Everybody's looking for a lawsuit, and why not?

PC prevails and cannot be challenged. One of my previous jobs was creating corporate video. Although my employer had not one black executive, in our videos we pretended that we had one in every department. The views of religious, conservative people were completely censored in the workplace (this is in NYC), while the fags, fag hags and radical leftists were free to blabber at will.

I put an end to this by pointing out that our much bally-hooed "diversity" program ruled out disrespect for any viewpoint or belief system. Unfortunately, but inevitably, the result was to plunge the entire place into bitter cold silence.

So, I found that the internet became the only place where true human interaction was possible for the eight hours I was imprisoned in a cube. It served as a outlet that kept me out of trouble. I could actually express human feelings and viewpoints other than doctrinal corporate PC without getting myself or somebody else into trouble.

Henry Miller foresaw this coming. He called it "The Air Conditioned Nightmare."

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 6, 2006 8:44 PM

I agree with Shouting Thomas, up to a point.

Where I work, in a corporation, there is a big emphasis on hiring a few minorities and women to make the place look "diverse". Most aren't very good, and it takes the white guys there to fix the work and meet the deadlines.

Anyway, a couple of months ago, one of my minority co-workers noticed that most people in the office didn't talk casually to one another much--they seemd to be stuck in their cubes with headphones on. I pointed out that most were probably busy (which is true), and that people who had been around for 4 or more years were more likely to chit-chat. What I didn't tell the minority co-worker was that one of the reasons for this is that the workforce is now "diverse"--people are very reluctant to talk about their opinions or interests with so many people they don't feel at home or familiar with.

But I try not to do much on the internet. If I have and opinion, I will usually write at home. But maybe he has a point--off work time should be spent away from the computer and other time wasters. Its worth a thought.

Posted by: s on August 6, 2006 11:57 PM

Hmm. I keep hearing about employers cracking down on people who surf and blog during work. I wonder how prevalent that movement is and what percentage of people actually face significant consequences. My perception is probably getting skewed by cases of firing that have been publicized.

Posted by: claire on August 7, 2006 12:25 AM

Michael – Let me suggest something that might appear to be counter-intuitive: the slacking off statistic is largely as artificial, false and pointless as a parent’s admonition that you should always eat everything on your plate. There are few jobs that require that people robotically perform their work non-stop from the time they clock-in to the time that they clock-out. There has been no decline in any significant measure of output (total GDP, GDP per hour worked, etc.), of US workers and businesses and by some measures American productivity exceeds that of the EU and other countries and regions. It’s even possible that increases in efficiency from computers and other workplace improvements have made it possible for people to “slack-off” and still do more work than they performed in earlier years, and to be better able to react to spikes in their workload.

I had one boss who was a martinet, who would get angry if he saw employees hovering over their desks talking to each other, especially if they laughed, even if they were discussing work issues. We even got warned once that an adjoining group complained that there was “too much jocularity” coming from our side. This guy got promoted out, and the new boss was much more relaxed. The end result with largely the same staff: Not only did more work get done, but we got more formal compliments from customers, had more of our suggestions for operational improvements implemented, and overall had one of our most productive periods ever.

Also, by the way, an employee who was surfing the net for “fun,” reading the news, came across an item concerning a proposal that would have a serious impact on the company and our customers if implemented, and ultimately we got the jump on competitors when the proposal was implemented.

I’ve seen similar things in other places where I have worked, and consistently see that working smart is always better than merely working hard. By the way, I think that when any organization reaches a certain size (varies with the nature of the work done), you have to get more formal because some people will inevitably abuse a relaxed atmosphere. Still, I think that the notion that any “idle” time is inherently wasted or “stealing from the company” is understandable, but false.

Put another way: in the aggregate, the output of a group of employees working 40 hours a week actually consists of some people effectively working 30 hours or less and others (but hopefully not too many) working the equivalent of 45 hours or more, even when customers or work materials enter within the formal 40 hour window.

Also, I will bet that one of the stories on this issue also commits the fallacy of converting the “slacker” hours into some purported millions or billions of dollars that businesses have “lost.” This kind of thing is a classic example of quantifying or charting something that is not necessarily significant.

Oh yeah: there is less obesity among people who stop eating when they feel full, as opposed to always eating everything on their plates no matter what.

Posted by: Alec on August 7, 2006 5:21 AM

Are they really slacking, or are they multitasking? For example, I'm currently writing this while on a conference call, and waiting on a service to stop on a server. So, if you were to monitor my Internet usage right now, it would appear I was slacking, when I'm working my butt off.

The problem with these studies is they don't really pay attention to what's going on. They just look at the usage reports from their firewalls or proxies and say "look, he spent all 8 hours today browsing the web!" They need to monitor my machine directly and see what ports are in use, which apps are in use, monitor my phone to see what I'm doing, and so on...but that would be too much work, wouldn't it? Slacker managers! :)

Posted by: Spoonman on August 7, 2006 8:30 AM

No wonder Shouting Thomas is so bitter! He has a job making corporate videos. I can't imagine any white-collar job that is more depressing. It's like the worst of capitalism and the worst of socialism, combined.

Posted by: MQ on August 7, 2006 12:25 PM

I work in the internet industry, so my web usage at work is hard to catagorize. Just this morning, I was browsing through my usualy early morning blogroll, saw an intersting bit on, followed it and it turned out to be a new usage tracking tool that we could use here at work. I emailed the link to the manager and got the OK to pursue it. Pleasure reading turned into productivity! Viva la internet!

Anyway, I agree that computers have automated a lot of formerly manual tasks, so that people can get a hell of lot done and still appear to be slacking.

Posted by: the patriarch on August 7, 2006 2:11 PM

If I don't break away from what I'm supposed to be doing, I just can't function. Seriously. However, I bill by the hour, and always deduct an allowance for goofing-off time, so I guess I'm really only slacking on my own time.

Posted by: Mitch on August 8, 2006 8:45 PM

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