Those are among the conclusions of a study on wasted time at work released Monday by compensation specialist Salary.com and Web portal America Online. Through a Web survey involving more than 10,000 employees, the report found that personal Internet surfing ranked as the top method of cooling one's heels at work. It was cited by 44.7 percent of respondents as their primary time-wasting activity, followed by socializing with co-workers (23.4 percent) and conducting personal business (6.8 percent).
The average worker admits to frittering away 2.09 hours per day, not counting lunch, according to the report. That's far more time than the roughly one hour per day employers expect the average employee to waste, the report said. The extra unproductive time adds up to $759 billion annually in salaries for which companies get no apparent benefit, the report said.
"It's interesting to note that the Internet was cited as the leading time-wasting activity. It goes to show how integrated it has become to the daily functions of our personal and professional lives," Samara Jaffe, a director at America Online, said in a statement. "Today, there are so many useful tools and Web sites on the Internet that have enabled people to become more efficient with accomplishing multiple tasks in a shorter amount of time."
Unproductive hours on the job may have something to do with workdays growing longer. Between 1977 and 2002, average work hours increased, according to the Families and Work Institute. A growing number of workersrather than a raise, according to a study published earlier this year.
Average hours wasted per person, per day, were highest in the insurance industry, at 2.5 hours per day. The public sector (excluding education) was second at 2.4 hours per day, followed by research & development at 2.3 hours a day. The "Software & Internet" industry ranked fifth, at 2.2 hours a day.
Those in Missouri wasted an average of 3.2 hours per day, per person, according to the report. Indiana ranked second at 2.8 hours per day.
More-than-expected time spent goofing off isn't necessarily a bad thing, argued Bill Coleman, senior vice president at Salary.com. "In some cases this extra wasted time might be considered 'creative waste'--time that may well have a positive impact on the company's culture, work environment, and even business results," Coleman said in a statement. "Personal Internet use and casual office conversations often turn into new business ideas or suggestions for gaining operating efficiencies."