Web Sites Cater to Workplace Slackers

If you're reading this article, chances are you might be slacking off at work.

You're not alone. In fact, so many people take breaks to surf the Net at the office that some webmasters have created sites specifically for workplace loafers, such as www.IShouldBeWorking.com or www.BoredAtWork.com.

"Employees do a lot of Web surfing instead of doing their jobs at work," said Frank Scanlan, spokesman for the Society for Human Resource Management (search).

And there's plenty for them to do on the slacker sites alone. IShouldBeWorking.com features games, jokes, links to articles, e-cards and a slew of other ways to put off the day's tasks. There's even a panic button for a quick exit to a more business-like Web page.

The offerings on BoredAtWork.com aren't as extensive, but include a list of links that might interest those looking for an office distraction.

"I'm not promoting it," IShouldBeWorking.com creator Mike Kelly said of office slacking. "It's using their goofing-off time more effectively."

In November 2003, workers surveyed by Nielsen/NetRatings (search) spent 21 hours and 41 minutes online at work. Though some of that time might have been work-related, it wasn't all business judging from the sites they were perusing.

Time per person spent on the American Singles site was one hour 39 minutes, on eBay, one hour 30 minutes and on music file-swapping site Kazaa, one hour 30 minutes.

"Just looking at the Web sites people go to, we could make the assumption that this is really not work-related," said Nielsen/NetRatings senior analyst Abha Bhagat. "You want a quick, five-minute break, so maybe you check your stocks, read the news or check the status of something you bid on eBay."

Kelly said visitors to his site are especially drawn to the games. Time-wasters can be everything from a pinecone-snatching squirrel in "Lady Squirrel's Cone Catching" to a milk-bottle-flinging farmer in "Throw the Milkbucket."

Other people while away their time sending e-cards to friends that tell them they're slacking on the job. Kelly once got an e-mail from someone who'd been fired for sending such a card to a co-worker. The co-worker accidentally left the card up on the computer screen.

Procrastinators can also watch hours tick away while posting notes on the site's message board — and judging from some entries, many do exactly that.

One Jan. 15 posting by "Office Potato" read in part: "I did nuthin' all week at work. I rule!! … Here is how the slacking went (and this is all true):

Monday: Came to work an hour late. Spent the day wildly surfing the net and hanging out at the coffee cart downstairs.
Tuesday: Called in sick, stayed home and slacked at my friend's house around the corner. He too was home slacking that day.
Wednesday: Came to work an hour late. (Really). Boss was busy slacking, so I made coffee and we slacked together, exchanging inappropriate jokes via e-mail. Then I surfed the net for the rest of the morning …"

Another, posted Jan. 5 by Peter Gibbons, read:

"I have one of those wonderful computer consulting jobs that lets me come home at noon, take long lunches and get there late. How do you people survive with real jobs!!! I would go insane!"

Though bosses were once big on monitoring Internet usage, the frenzy over tracking people has largely died down, according to Kelly.

"Even if [employers] do have spyware to monitor employees, they don't use it or don't really care," he said.

But some employers are still sticklers — and some slackers have gotten sacked.

"I've gotten e-mails complaining that the site was responsible for them losing their job," said Kelly. "I put a little disclaimer on there anyway saying if you're not supposed to be on here, that's not my fault."

Experts say workplace time-wasting mostly stems from low motivation and a lack of connection to one's job. A September 2003 Gallup (search) survey found that 56 percent of people were not "engaged" in their work and 17 percent were actively disengaged.

Jim Harter, Gallup's chief scientist of workplace management said a boss makes all the difference. "We’ve seen the strongest effect based on who the manager is," he said.

Bosses who use a one-size-fits-all approach will have more "disengaged" staff than those who treat people as individuals, Harter said. Employees are also more connected when they feel appreciated, understand how they're contributing and know what's expected.

Slacker or not, everyone needs downtime, but Kelly has come across some who take it to an extreme.

"There are people I've talked to who don't take a job unless they can goof off," he said.