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Power slacking on the job
Survey: Workers waste more time than employers expect, costing companies $759 billion a year.
July 11, 2005: 9:08 AM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) It probably will take you a few minutes to read this article, which won't put too much of a dent in your workday, right?

But add to that the time you spend trolling (elsewhere on) the Internet, chatting with colleagues about your life or Lhasa Apsos, booking your next vacation, and making all those admit it -- aimless phone calls to your spouse or friends.

Before you know it, you've killed a couple of hours, not including lunch.

Apparently, that's typical for the American worker, according to a survey released Monday by and AOL, a unit of Time Warner, CNN/'s parent company.

More than 10,000 respondents in the online survey admitted to wasting, on average, 2.09 hours per day.

Their top time-wasting activities, they said, were making personal use of the Internet (including email), socializing with colleagues, conducting personal business, spacing out, running errands, making phone calls, applying for jobs, planning personal events, and arriving late or leaving early.

(Of course, since the respondents were self-selected and answered the questions online, that may have skewed the results in favor of Internet use as a top time-waster.)

The survey also found that older workers reported wasting less time than younger workers.

But when it comes to gender, there was no difference. Men and women reported wasting an equal amount of time. That contradicts what many human resource managers assume. In a separate survey of HR managers conducted by, most said they assumed women wasted more time.

Your company expects you to waste time

By "wasting time," all that's meant is time spent on the job not doing actual work, said Bill Coleman, senior vice president of

(Tempting though it may be to include, it doesn't mean all that time you spend in pointless meetings or carrying out inane requests from the boss.)

Your company actually expects you to take some downtime during the day. According to's survey of HR managers, employers expect workers to waste about an hour a day plus lunch.

That downtime is even built into the salary structure, Coleman said. But since employees report wasting more than twice what companies expect, he estimates that the extra 1.09 hours of wasted time costs companies an estimated $759 billion a year.

'Wasting' time can be good for business

But not all employers would characterize that as money for nothing.

Some, Coleman said, view it as "creative waste" that benefits the company's culture, work environment and even improves the bottom line.

Here's the logic: Trolling the Internet or having casual office conversations can turn into new business ideas, ways to improve efficiency or just strengthen the bond between workers.

It also can bolster the reputation of a company as worker-friendly, especially if managers don't mind when an employee takes more downtime than usual after, say, cramming to finish a project, or has family concerns that need to be addressed during the day.

Of course, there's a difference between employees who are truly slackers and those who slack off occasionally to recharge their batteries or attend to personal business.

If nothing else, managers often can tell from the quality of someone's work the amount of effort put in.

Said Coleman: "Good managers know the work ethic of each of their employees and know who's a producer and who's a slacker."  Top of page


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