I see someone else is blaming Facebook etc for workers ‘wasting hours’ and ‘costing companies’ money. According to employment law firm Peninsula, 233 million hours are lost every month as a result of employees ‘wasting time’ on social networking.
I’m sorry, but this study sounds like a load of rubbish, and should be ignored by anyone with an once of common sense. Let’s take a look at it. Here’s our first problem: I cannot find the actual study/report online, nor even a press release about it on Peninsula’s website. They do have a mention of the survey in their press section which, demonstrating their grasp of the internet, mentions the BBC – for example – and others covering this story, but fails to actually link to the stories themselves. I would have emailed them to try and get a copy of the survey, but there doesn’t seem to be an email contact address on their site either.
So, I will apologise for not being able to quote from the source, and will have to go on what has been reported by the BBC. According to them, Mike Huss, director of employment law, at Peninsula, says that all firms should block access to sites such as Facebook. Why? Why indeed: “Why should employers allow their workers to waste two hours a day on Facebook when they are being paid to do a job?” he opines, adding that the that loss of productivity was proving a “major headache” for firms, and that things would only get worse.
Oh to see the world in black and white.
I presume their next report will be suggesting firms ban meetings for the wasted time and lack of productivity they result in?Microsoft spotted that one. Lisa Belkin referred to it in an excellent piece in the New York Times earlier this year on time-wasting at work, and whether it really was wasted time. The Microsoft survey found respondents saying they spent 5.6 hours each week in meetings and 71% of them thought that those meetings “aren’t productive.”
How much money is that losing companies Mr Huss?
Why the report is also rubbish is that it tells us nothing new. People ‘waste time’ at work shock. The question is what constitutes wasted time, and whether you can apply one practice – for example accessing facebook – as wasting time for everyone that does so. I do not think you can.
If I go back to Belkin, she hits the nail on the head when she says the problem is “what looks like wasting time from where you sit, could be a whirl of creative thought from where I sit”. She highlights research that shows anyone who is ‘working’ continuously gets less effective the longer they go on without a break of some sort. She quotes from Bob Kustka, the founder of Fusion Factor, a productivity and time-management consulting firm who says “The longer you work, the less efficient you are” . He says workers are like athletes in that they are most efficient in concentrated bursts. Working energy, like physical energy, “is best used in spurts where we work hard on a few focused activities and then take a brief respite.”I presume the survey doesn’t try and measure the quality of work / productivity accomplished in the hours ‘not wasted’? For me, this is the important thing – this is where any financial gains and loses really hit companies.
It is not hard when reading the comments from Mr Huss, to image him making the same arguments about email and access to the internet in general a few years ago.
Capital Times reported back in 1996 that a survey of top executives from 1,0 00 of the US’s largest companies found that 55% though personal web surfing hurt productivity In May 1999, Computing reported the average person given access to the internet at work wasted at least 30 minutes a day on non-work related stuff. In May 2001, the FT reported that Websense and SurfControl were both offering to help companies ration or block internet access under the guise of “improving productivity”. In the US, Salary.com has conducted a survey the last three years on so-called wasted time. The results? “the average worker admits to frittering away 2.09 hours per 8-hour workday in 2005; 1.86 hours a day by 2006; and 1.7 hours out of a typical 8.5 hour day in 2007. The figure seems fairly constant.
People using the internet is nothing new – although thankfully the choice of content available and speed of connection is much better for most of us today than it was then.
Work, as Melanie Bunting said in her book from 2004, Willing Slaves, dominates most people’s lives, and we and our employers have to find ways of balancing things to get the most of our working day. Along side that, the internet has revolutionised our lives, and our work lives, to the extent with blackberries etc that you can always be ‘available’ to work. You can work from home, from Starbucks, from the beach, on the tube. Work has slowly been encroaching into our personal lives. How many of us now end up doing the occasional bit of ‘work’ related surfing or other task in our ‘home’ time? How many of us spend most , if not all our ‘lunch-hour’ at our desks? Some employers – mine included – recognise this and accept that the flip side of that is personal lives will find their way into the workplace in return. In doing so they treat their employees like adults, not children. They place a level of trust knowing that most people will not abuse that trust.
We should also not forget that the internet, nor specific websites are the cause of this ‘wasted time’ at work – although I am sure Peninsula would like you to think so. Before the internet is was tea and coffee breaks, cigarette breaks, ‘filing’, reading the newspaper, personal phone calls, and a host of other pastimes. People not working for the whole of the working day is nothing new.
In situations where people are actively wasting time there are also many reasons why people do this – not having enough work; low moral in the job their doing being amongst the most common. And this comes down to people being supervised and managed properly. If you as the supervisor of someone whose work is not getting done because they are spending too much time on websites etc doesn’t see this or address this, then you’re not doing your job – a whole other issue.
According to Huss, “Continued misuse of the internet by an employee is a situation when disciplining and sacking a worker is acceptable”
I totally agree. If someone is spending all their time on Facebook, personal email etc and is failing to do their job and get the work done they are expected to do – then that needs to be addressed. And if someone is on Facebook etc for hours at a time, rather than 5-10 mins here or there then again, there may be issues to address. But there are already means to do so. Most companies have internet use/acceptable use policies, that can be used, for example. There is also no need to ban anything. Banning things pisses people off. That, I have found, doesn’t usually make them more motivated or productive. Look for example of the response when A&O decided to ban access to Facebook. The speed at which that was reversed showed WHO was using it – the fee earners and those high u
p, not just the secretaries and support staff. The result, access restored. Others, such as Ashursts take the opposite approach and don’t allow staff access.
Philip Bartlett, employment partner at Simmons & Simmons, told the Times in June this year : “Employees will have been told that, at work, the internet is a business tool. There is an expectation of some personal use as there is with phone calls, but there’s a limit. Most companies have internet policies which outline acceptable personal use. It would be pretty gung-ho to go around sacking people who spend a couple of hours on Facebook. You would expect an informal chat or some disciplinary process. If these sites were continually used for personal reasons, legally, yes, it could be a sackable offence.”
And here we are, and I still haven’t even touched on the perhaps more important question – which is if you/I spend 2 hours of work time on facebook, or other social networking sites a day – is this all actually ‘wasted time’??
But, I’ll leave that for another time. What do you think?