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Jun 13, 2014

Ever since the dawn of time, when humans figured out that they needed to work, people have found an untold number of ways to goof off and waste time on the job.

So, there’s nothing new about the fact that people DO waste time at work, but the twist today is that modern technology — the computer, the smartphone, the Internet, social media — have expanded exponentially the various ways people can avoid work.

The latest survey from CareerBuilder — titled Top 10 Productivity Killers at Work — certainly captures that, but it could have as easily been titled How 21st Century Technology Helps Workers Find New Ways to Waste Time and Goof Off.  

How technology drives goofing off at work

How technology According to the CareerBuilder survey, conducted by Harris Poll, of 2,138 hiring managers and HR professionals, here’s what employers pointed to as “the primary productivity stoppers in the workplace” —

  1. Cell phone/texting – 50 percent;
  2. Gossip – 42 percent (this proves that some ways to goof off seem to transcend technology);
  3. The Internet – 39 percent;
  4. Social media – 38 percent;
  5. Snack breaks or smoke breaks – 27 percent;
  6. Noisy co-workers – 24 percent;
  7. Meetings – 23 percent (another time waster untouched by technology);
  8. Email – 23 percent;
  9. Co-workers dropping by – 23 percent;
  10. Co-workers putting calls on speaker phone – 10 percent.

As CareerBuilder’s brief analysis noted:

Not surprisingly, personal use of technology is one of the leading culprits behind unproductive activity at work. One in four workers (24 percent) admitted that, during a typical workday, they will spend at least one hour a day on personal calls, emails or texts. (Some) 21 percent estimate that they spend one hour or more during a typical workday searching the Internet for non-work-related information, photos, etc.”

Real life ways employees avoid work

“While many managers feel their teams perform at a desirable level, they also warn that little distractions can add up to bigger gaps in productivity,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder, in a press release about the survey.

She added: “It’s important to be organized and designate times to work on different deliverables. Minimize interruptions and save personal communications for your lunch hour or break. It can help put more time and momentum back into your work day.”

Yes, it’s important for workers to be organized — and that’s probably more true today, given how technology helps to deliver more work at all hours of the day and night — but the real-life examples in the survey of some of the more unusual things managers report seeing employees doing instead of work, show that people will do all sorts of crazy things to avoid real work. For example:

  • Employee was blowing bubbles in sub-zero weather to see if the bubbles would freeze and break.
  • A married employee was looking at a dating web site and then denied it while it was still up on his computer screen.
  • Employee was caring for her pet bird that she smuggled into work.
  • Employee was shaving her legs in the women’s restroom.
  • Employee was laying under boxes to scare people.
  • Employees were having a wrestling match.
  • Employee was sleeping, but claimed he was praying.
  • Employee was taking selfies in the bathroom
  • Employee was changing clothes in a cubicle.
  • Employee was printing off a book from the Internet
  • Employee was warming her bare feet under the bathroom hand dryer

As Dave Barry would say, you can’t make this stuff up.  And, you can’t avoid people trying to get out of doing real work.

Leading employees you never see

Of course, there’s a lot more going on this week than just the silly ways people goof off at work. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • How to lead employees you never see. One of the new wrinkles for today’s managers is this: how do you manage virtual workers and virtual teams? Fast Company dug into this timely topic recently, and it noted that “in a recent survey from Staples, 71 percent of telecommuters consider the ability to work from home an important factor in taking a new job.When people taste freedom, they don’t go back. Organizations that want these people have to accommodate telecommuting requests — even in management.” Here’s the top tip they listed: Know that virtual doesn’t mean completely virtual.
  • The riskiest state for employee lawsuits? It’s not hard to guess. You probably knew this already, but TLNT’s home state of California was called out in a new study this week (highlighted in the Fox & Hounds newsletter) as a place where employers have a 42% percent higher chance of being sued by an employee than the national average.” And it goes on to note that, ” In California … state laws allow, and even encourage employment lawsuits, and these laws greatly increase the risk that any given business will face an employment lawsuit in a given year.”
  • SHRM’s former CEO on the SHRM-HRCI certification flap. Sue Meisinger is the well respected former CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, and she weighs in this week on the recent flap over SHRM saying they will take over the HR certification process. As she writes in her column at Human Resource Executive, “I’m disappointed that HR professionals have to wait for more information and answers, and I’m disappointed in SHRM for the way it handled its seemingly abrupt decision to enter the certification business. SHRM’s own competency model identifies consultation, communication and relationship management as core competencies for HR professionals. Everything about how this decision and announcement was made suggests that SHRM has some competency building of its own to do.”
  • It helps when employees can keep score. Some great pearls of management wisdom this week in The New York Times‘ interview with Adam Nash, chief executive of Wealthfront, an online financial management firm. He said, in part, “How you keep score is … important. Because if you don’t give people metrics, smart people will make up their own. … Most people think that metrics are something you use to control employees. I take the complete opposite view. I think metrics are actually the way that you can harmonize a large number of people, whether it’s dozens or even thousands, so that when they’re on their own and making their own decisions, they can be empowered to make those decisions, because they know they’re aligned with the rest of the company.”