According to a 2014 Gallup survey, the average person spends between 40 and 50 hours a week at work. Even if you disregard lunch and bathroom breaks, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re spending all of this time on emails, projects, and other business. So, if employees aren’t being productive every minute while at work, what are they doing?
There are many non-work related activities employees engage in throughout the day. However, it’s also important to note that some of these unproductive activities are actually beneficial for overall productivity.
At ActivTrak, an employee insights and analytics service I founded, we have interesting real-world usage statistics on a few of the most common non-work activities employees engage in.
1. Music and radio station streaming.
Music in the office is hardly a new concept. Office radios were a staple for decades. With the popularization of music streaming services and headphones, employees can listen to what they want without disrupting anyone. This does, however, come hand in hand with people taking some time to search through artists to find specific albums or compile a playlist that aligns with their mood for the day.
It normally takes less than 30 seconds to switch to a new song or change the station, or five to 10 minutes to compile a new playlist for the day (even less with some streaming services). Music can help employees focus on a project, or drown out distracting office noise. It contributes to productivity and enjoyment in the office. As long as streaming music is not causing an employer to pay for extra bandwidth, this activity is harmless and can really boost morale. ActivTrak users seem to agree – only 6 percent of users have marked Pandora as unproductive.
2. Staying up-to-date with friends and family.
This is arguably the most controversial non-work related activity. It leads to employers flocking to website-blocking software, prohibiting access to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Close to 70 percent of ActivTrak users have labeled Facebook as unproductive, and 20 percent have done the same for Gmail. But unless an employee chronicly wastes hours at a time, blocking this interpersonal interaction will have an adverse effect. Most people require a few moments throughout the day to take a brain break, especially after a strenuous task or project is completed. Otherwise they run the risk of burning out, which is detrimental to themselves and your business.
While historically these interpersonal breaks have been taken in the breakroom with co-workers, there isn’t that much of a difference if they hop on Facebook and catch up with friends for a few minutes. As long as it’s done in moderation, it can provide a calming presence for an otherwise stressful day. Instead of blocking these sites and getting side-eye from employees, businesses should monitor usage to keep situations from getting out of hand.
3. Tending to personal obligations.
The easiest thing an employer can forget is that employees do have a life outside the office with obligations and stresses that require attention during work hours. Many employees take a few minutes between tasks or a 10 minute break here and there to schedule a doctor’s appointment, look into mechanics for an automobile inspection or call their bank to dispute a charge, etc. Given the hours of most doctors’ offices, auto shops and banks, it pays to make the call at 11:00 am rather than 6:30 pm.
But life outside the office isn’t just about the dull appointments. Employees may spend some time rewarding themselves with vacations or concert tickets. Event tickets often go on sale around 10 am, and certain concerts or sporting events sell out quickly. People also make last-minute dinner or evening plans for day-of activities during the workday, and the process must be finalized in a timely manner. It instantly adds some excitement and happiness to the day, leaving employees ready to move back into their regular work tasks.
Employer leniency on these types of personal activities has a wide range of long-term benefits. It shows that the employer cares about their staff outside of driving hard results; they care about them as individuals. On the practical side, it doesn’t hurt to have healthy and happy employees.
Whether it is Fantasy Football leagues or March Madness brackets, sports talk inevitably bleeds into office life. Employees tend to gather around the proverbial watercooler (or the literal watercooler, if the office has one) to share opinions with one another. As with the other activities discussed in this article, this can be tolerated in moderation. It becomes a problem when employees begin watching full games during work or spending excessive amounts of time building out brackets or fantasy teams on the clock. Productivity declines dramatically, and management takes notice, no matter how sneaky people think they’re being.
As an employer, it is up to your discretion to establish what constitutes “over the line” behavior when it comes to non-work related activities in the office. Employees may take a few minutes throughout the day to tend to personal needs, but that time should not impede company policy or work ethic. By allowing employees to take care of some personal matters during work hours, management can improve overall productivity employee efficiency and engagement in the workplace. A recent study showed that 86 percent of employees acknowledge that taking a break would make them more productive. It can be surprising how a few minutes of "unproductive" work can actually spark creativity.