We've all been guilty of wasting a little time at work, whether it's caused by logging onto Facebook to stalk a cute co-worker over in Accounting or spending the 15 minutes before your lunch break in the bathroom to kill time. But if you've ever wondered exactly how much time you waste at work every day, good news: It's probably not as much as you think. It's hard to work an eight-, nine-, or 10-hour day head on with absolutely no distractions, so you don't have to feel guilty about stealing an extra moment here or there.
Michael Burda, Kaie Genadek, and Daniel Hamermersh conducted a study recently published in the National Bureau of Economic Research to find out how often we slack off in the workplace. According to their data set, which they drew from the American Time Use Survey, the average American worker spends about 34 minutes a day not working. However, it's important to keep in mind that the survey is self-reported; since humans have a habit of wanting to cast themselves in the best light possible, it's possible that not all the results were reliable. In order to account for this sort of bias, the researchers removed the outliers who said they wasted no time at all (because that's highly unlikely) — and found that the remaining respondents reported waste about 50 minutes a day at work. To put it in perspective, look at it like this: If your workday runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m, that means that, in addition to your lunchbreak, you're likely actually working for the equivalent of maybe 9 a.m. to 4 or 4:30 p.m.
Although this amount of time wasted may not be as high as a lot of us probably thought it would be, these findings are still a lot higher than what salary.com reported in 2014. According to that data, though about 90 percent of respondents admitted to wasting time at work, they seemed to only waste about 30 minutes on average. Either we've gotten a little lazier since 2014, or people have become bolder when it comes to self-reporting that laziness.
But like any study, Burda, Genadek, and Hamermersh's results aren't that simple. Here are four other things the numbers say about how we slack off at work:
1. Not Everyone Wastes the Same Proportion of the Workday
As it turns out, the more hours a week you work, the higher proportion of time you slack off — but only until a certain point. Generally speaking, respondents slacked off in higher proportions for more time worked until they hit 42 hours a week. Then they began slacking off less.
2. The Data Was Gathered During the Recession, Which Could Drastically Impact the Results
The data for the study was taken between 2003 and 2012 — which means that it captured the recession, a time when most fully-employed people probably weren't slacking off too much out of fear of getting laid off. (The rest of us, meanwhile, were struggling to find jobs that largely didn't exist.) When business is better, slacking is easier because you're more secure in your job.
3. Self-Reported Data Presents Its Own Issues
Remember the people who reported that they waste literally no time at work? They may not actually be telling the whole story. People like to make themselves look good, and when it comes to self reported data, it's easy to do that by skewing the truth a little bit. There could be a lot of biases in the data, including people just not knowing the exact amount of time they're wasting — because when it comes down to it, you waste time to lose track of it, not keep track of it.
4. Wasting Time Isn't Always a Bad Thing!
Taking a break is actually a great way to boost your mind and creativity, which ultimately leads to better productivity. Science of Us says taking naps and avoiding working more than 90 minutes at a time can be great ways to get you back on track when you're feeling a little burnt out. Of course, napping at work can be a little difficult (especially if you don't have an office with a door that closes and locks), but taking a quick water break or even making a little time every now and then to watch a cute puppy video could end up being better for your productivity in the long run.
You can find more information on the study here.