November 5, 2005

Personal Amusements and Productivity – Come on - Pull the Other One

This is a little awkward; well, a lot awkward really, since I can’t find the source article, and I managed to lose the blog upon which I came across this snippet, before getting either the link or the name of the blog. So, to whoever he is (and I think it was a he), if you read this, please let me know where you are and I will gladly link to the post on your site.

This is the verbatim blog heading and entry, from the mystery blogger (yeah, I know; should have got the link before the text, but I didn’t think it was that interesting until after I had read it properly…do’h).

Blogs. Destroying the economy or improving productivity?

A report last week by Advertising Age Editor at Large Bradley Johnson noted that about 35 million workers -- or one in four people in the U.S. labor force -- spend an average of 3.5 hours, or 9%, of each work day reading blogs.

This blogification of workplace time is no minor concern -- the total losses across the national work force are estimated to be the equivalent of 551,000 years of paid time that is being spent on blogs via the employer's own computer systems.

Another important point was that the time spent reading blogs on the job was in addition to the time already spent surfing the Web in personal pursuits. The debate appears to be one of reasonable limits.

At what point, or at what length of time, does the use of company assets for personal activities become unreasonable? And is the problem likely to become an even greater one as more and more TV content goes online, becoming easily accessible from one's office computer? Do employers need to find new ways to police their computer systems? Or does Blogging and personal surfing actually improve moral and make people more productive in the long run? Your thoughts?”

I didn’t get to the comments, if any, as I had lost the blog by then.

In addition to blogging and surfing the web for personal use, he left off the work time devoted to personal emails. Given that business emails use up hours of time each day, for most people, when you throw in blogs, personal surfing, perhaps a bit of instant messaging, and personal emails, perhaps 15 minutes playing an online game, well, the erosion of time devoted to actually performing work is, to my mind, dramatic. Add in meetings, necessary routine administrative tasks, walking to and from printers and photocopiers, listening to voicemail messages, leaving voicemail messages, and having real telephone calls (personal and business), playing with Blackberrys and other personal devices, scheduling future meetings, prioritizing work to be done in the future, and you start to see that an enormous number of average office workers, including managers, are most likely performing very little work.

By “work” I mean the actual construction or production or provision of a real or tangible contribution to achieving some goal or output or outcome that contributes in a measurable, whether quantitative or qualitative, manner to the maintenance or increase of business profits or margins, or to the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization. Because THAT’S what people are paid to do – to work; to make a contribution. And they’re paid to do it TODAY.

I was, as you would gather, especially intrigued by the question posed by our “mystery blogger” at the end of his post. Do all of these personal activities, performed on company equipment, on the company network, on company time, improve morale? Does this make people more productive “in the long run”?

Given that the “long run”, in economic terms is generally about five years, but sometimes as little as three years, a large number of workers won’t remain in a company long enough for the company to benefit from this hypothetical “long run” dazzling increase in productivity – and it would need to be dazzling, with bells on. Their productivity, by my rough mental calculation would need to increase by, on average, 60% purely to make up for the time they did not spend doing the work they are paid to do in the first place. In order to be more productive, they would have to increase their productivity by more than 60%, because that’s merely a break-even number, the point at which they have worked the hours they were being paid to perform at a pretty average level of productivity.

Improve morale? That tends to occur with flexible hours and arrangements, that is, when people know they can go to the bank when a bank is open; when they can come in late and work late, because that suits their family obligations, or their gym schedule; or when they know they can pop down to the shops to get some Christmas shopping done at a time when the hoards have yet to descend; or to take days off, without penalty, when their children or their Mum is sick. In other words, moral and productivity are improved when people know with a certainty that their private lives will not be overly compromised or destroyed by their work obligations – it takes a weight off their mind, which means, or should mean, that when they are at work they are focused on work. Morale and productivity are also improved by people having control over how they perform their work and how they manage their work. Let’s just make that point a bit clearer – control over their WORK, as opposed to “control” over their incidental leisure activities, such as blogging or surfing the web.

Improving morale and productivity has nothing to do with people devoting hours of their working day to the pursuit of personal hobbies, interests or amusements.

This is not some grey line, this is clear cut: flexibility and trust boost morale and significantly improves productivity, but using your 8 hour working day distracted by the Internet is not an accommodation of personal or family needs, and adds nothing to morale or productivity – that’s just slack-arses totally abusing work resources and taking their pay under false pretenses.

Add it up – all of the non-work, non-productive, and personal activities now being performed in offices across the globe, during so-called working hours – and the cost to business must run to many tens of billions of dollars every single year.

The more technology changes to provide new beaut business tools - which all too often adds to busy-ness, rather than enabling an increase in effectiveness or productivity - the more we have technology that also nicely accommodates a myriad of personal distractions - during working time. Indeed, most especially during working hours, because that's often where the best technology is located, and often the only access that some people have; perhaps too, it's when people, perversly, make time for their personal interests, because they know they won't have time when they get home to their families, or when the clock chimes for their social life to kick-in, or their part-time study, or whatever.

It takes most people at least five minutes to focus back onto a task once they have been distracted (that's a fact), by things such as a call, an email, a quick look at a blog, checking an item on eBay, a chat with a colleague passing in the corridor. Add in all of the “refocus on the job at hand time” down-time in the average working day and you’ve already lost at least one hour of work time, if not more, for each person simply trying to remember what they were doing before they were interrupted or distracted – increasingly by personal pursuits and amusements on their workplace technology tools.

Yes, this is a DIRECT COST to business and to organisations, which means a direct cost, and a direct loss, to both employers and employees - billions of dollars in productivity forgone; billions of dollars in profits forgone; billions wiped off the GDP of developed countries.


  1. Have to agree with you there.

    Work is work. You go to work to do a job in exchange for money so that you can pay for that house or that car or those kids.

    Somewhere along the line, employers have found that some work becomes the life of the people who perform it and, in turn, the people have confused the daytime hours with their lives. They even have a name for it: 'career'.

    You cannot believe the looks of disappointment I have gotten over the years when I have told my bosses that I work to live, not live to work. That I do not choose to attend work functions on my own time because the people at work are only incidental to my life and that the important ones at home are the ones I would rather be with during that time.

    I used to have a 'career' - now I have a 'life'.

    Work stays at work and home stuff is done at home.

  2. Ah, yes, that’s the flip side of the story, and I have to totally agree with you.

    Why would I want to hang out with a bunch of strangers for longer than absolutely necessary to do my job? Most of us already spend more time with work acquaintances than we do with our nearest and dearest, which is utterly perverse, and these days, there’s the increasing expectation that some how we will have ALL of our “needs” met at work – including social, educational (yeah, right!), creative, relaxation, exercise, eating, adventures (!!!), romance even (except that some companies have made that illegal) – hey, let’s all get a neck massage at our desks on Wednesday, and next week we’re going to spend the entire day BONDING as a TEAM, while we’re out bowling. Not to mention drinks after work, lunches, conferences, that long exercise walk at "lunch time", and on and on.

    But you know what? Even after all of that, everyone promptly reverts to form and bitch about each other, whine about their “massive” workloads, don’t meet deadlines, run over budget, complain to anyone who will listen, about everything under the sun, take credit for other people’s work, suck-up to their next up manager, stab their one up manager in the back – all business as usual. But team bonding is HUGE business – it’s an entire new industry and people are making a shit-load of money out of it.

    I have the horrors over those perky colleagues who shove muffins or mixed lollies at everyone; spend most of their day “chatting” with people,; and go out for coffee with a dozen of their “closest” work mates at 10.00 am every Friday, purely to have a bitch fest for a couple of hours. They’re often the same people who organize a morning tea for every birthday in the office, which means that at least one hour a week is supposed to be given over to standing around eating cake with someone you don’t even know – they just happen to work on the same floor. And then you’re supposed to do it all over again when that same person is made redundant two weeks later. The looks of pure hatred and bitchy comments for getting on with your WORK instead of attending these lame and pathetic “events” are breathtaking. One hour spent at a morning tea means one hour extra that I have to stay in the office to get my job done. Oh, except for all those people who still manage to leave by 4.00 or 5.00pm – funny ‘bout that.

    Some of my closest friends are people I met at work, but it only averages one new “friend”, found via work, about once every three years, and that’s something that happens purely by chance and by the grace of the goddesses. I often feel like I should wear a sign, especially when I start a new job, or when overly “friendly” puppies join the office - “sorry not recruiting”. I’d probably be fired. But then again, I’ve probably nearly been fired for sneering and snarling at anyone who thinks that just because we work in an office together and just because I’m polite to work with, this is an invitation that I want to be their best pal and confidant – I DON’T MORON – it’s just good manners; it’s just being professional – TWIT!

    See what I mean?

  3. Caz,

    Absolute horror at "team bonding" crap, morale-building crap, birthday party crap, going-out-after-work crap (as well as many other kinds of crap) is why I haven't had what you'd call a "regular" job for quite some time.

    At least, that's my story. So be sure to contradict anyone who says it's because I "smelled bad" or "harrassed co-workers," will you? Thanks.

  4. And I’m sure it had nothing to do with those pit bulls that were found err, *cough*, “about your person”.

  5. Hi Caz, I found a reference here -

    -- Nora

  6. Ah yes - the birthday cake thing. There is a 'rule' in the office at work that you have to bring a cake in for everyone else on your birthday. There is a woman at work who is so self-righteous that there are days when I have to walk away before I tell her what I think of her two-faced criteria. She claimed that since I had not brought a cake in for 10 years (which I happily admitted to), I was then to make up for it by bringing in one a month for the current team in order to make up the shortfall.

    She got told that I didn't bring cakes in because the dickheads I worked with before weren't entitled to oxygen in my opinion and they definitely weren't worth feeding (almost exact words) and that if they *really* wanted a cake for my birthday, I would instead go down and buy a muffin right now and they could pass it 'round and each take a bite as I don't want false birthday wishes from people who didn't give a shit whether I lived or died.

    That was before I knew them though and I do bring in a cake now because they are reasonably good people but the woman never asks for a cake anymore because I usually reply with something like "how about a shit sandwich instead?" >:)

    She's also been told that my birthday is NOT to be put into the team calendar and I don't care if she thinks it's funny to put it there or not. Funny how a person who considers themselves to be empowered reacts when they are *told* that they "will NOT" do something....

    As you can tell - I'm not very good at office politics and games :)
    It's like I told Nilknarf (in a nice way! :) : there are people in the world that you are nice to - these are the ones you associate with and call friends. The aresholes are the ones we should really save the hostilities for instead of taking it out on lovers, friends & families - and that is the habit I am getting myself into :)

  7. Hi Nora - same story mentioned, but not the blog that I saw & text that I've re-used...still hoping I will stumble across it some time, as I'd like to see what comments were made about his question!

  8. Jai - having to bring your own cake and being expected to share with people who don't give a toss about you - yes, that's even WORSE than having cake inflicted upon you!

    There's something really lame about that whole set up.

  9. I used to be the one to hand out the mixed lollies at work.

    But then, I was also the manager of a team that had had shit management for the last umpteen years. It was done semi-regularly; once a month or so.

    I made it clear that since I couldn't give out pay raises and they were a great team, then they'd have to suffer with my appreciation and scorched almonds instead.

    I also bought flowers and things for my best performers, let them go home early, and when one of my girls lost her mum, I let her take as long as she needed to deal with it. Took some fudging on the paperwork to make sure she didn't lose any of her pay, but she was my best worker and needed special care.

    As for team bonding. Grrrr. I did a LOT of work on team dynamics, and it's remarkable how few people put it into play properly. It's not that difficult. Just look after your people and treat them with respect. Make the workzone pleasant, and you get bucketloads of work out of them. It's a piece of cake!

    I found that very few of them wasted times on games and personal stuff.

  10. It's not quantam physics is it Nilk, and yet how woeful are most managers, and how grossly they over-estimate their "team building" skills and under-estimate the damage done by a few bad eggs.

    I've been very fortunate with managers, and was joking to a current manager only the other day, that "no, no, I don't really collect managers" - which is not entirely true, as the top five of my nearest and dearest are all former managers. Odd that, very odd indeed.

    You are a rarity in your past approach to managing people.

  11. Thanks, caz. It's just common sense.

    Look after your people and they will look after you.

    Team building in a nutshell.

    The trips away are all very well, and you can even throw in a couple of brainstorming sessions to make it look good, but they're just junkets.

    I don't care how high up the corporate food chain you are, or how low. We all bleed red blood when cut, so we should all be accorded respect.

  12. Although, there are a couple of actors I've worked with who could use a smack upside of the head. :)