Productivity Killers: From Common to Strange

A recent CareerBuilder survey reveals common productivity killers at work, not to mention some highly unusual activities employers have caught employees doing instead of, you know, actually working.

Killing Time — and Productivity

The survey identified many of the obstacles, such as smartphones, chatty co-workers and never-ending Twitter feeds, which get in the way of actual work.

Employers were asked to name the biggest productivity killers in the workplace:

  1. Cell phones/texting: 52 percent
  2. The Internet: 44 percent
  3. Gossip: 37 percent
  4. Social media: 36 percent
  5. Email: 31 percent
  6. Co-workers dropping by: 27 percent
  7. Meetings: 26 percent
  8. Smoke breaks/snack breaks: 27 percent
  9. Noisy co-workers: 17 percent
  10. Sitting in a cubicle: 10 percent

The Strangest Non-Work Activities Workers Have Done On the Job

The survey also queried employers on the most unusual or most memorable activities they found an employee doing instead of working. The employers gave some memorable answers, including:

  • Employee was taking a sponge bath in the bathroom sink.
  • Employee was trying to hypnotize other employees to stop their smoking habits.
  • Employee was visiting a tanning bed in lieu of making deliveries.
  • Employee was looking for a mail-order bride.
  • Employee was playing a video game on a cell phone while sitting in a bathroom stall.
  • Employee was drinking vodka while watching Netflix.
  • Employee was sabotaging another employee’s car tires.
  • Employee was sleeping on the CEO’s couch.
  • Employee was writing negative posts about the company on social media.
  • Employee was sending inappropriate pictures to other employees.
  • Employee was searching Google images for “cute kittens.”
  • Employee was making a model plane.
  • Employee was flying drones around the office.
  • Employee was printing pictures of animals, naming them after employees and hanging them in the work area.

The Consequences of Distraction

With so many distractions around, it’s surprising any work gets done at all — and sometimes it doesn’t. Employers said productivity killers can generate negative consequences, including:

  • Compromised quality of work: 45 percent
  • Lower morale because other workers have to pick up the slack: 30 percent
  • Negative impact on boss/employee relationship: 25 percent
  • Missed deadlines: 24 percent
  • Loss in revenue: 21 percent

Killing the Productivity Killers

Nearly three in four employers (74 percent) said they took at least one step, such as blocking certain Internet sites (33 percent) or banning personal calls/cell phone use during working times (23 percent), to mitigate productivity killers. Employers reported taking other efforts to mitigate productivity killers:

  • Scheduling lunch and break times: 21 percent
  • Monitoring emails and Internet use: 21 percent
  • Limiting meetings: 16 percent
  • Allowing people to telecommute: 13 percent
  • Using an open space layout instead of cubicles: 12 percent

Creating Policies

Having clear and consistently enforced policies is key. Employers who want to place limits on personal cell phone use at work or limits on the use of company property, such as company cell phones, tablets or computers, should implement policies dealing with the use of electronic media during working times. Employers may also want to consider social media policies.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some companies are more tolerant in this regard than others. Thinking about your company culture and values will help you shape your desired policy. The biggest mistake is to not have any policy at all or to have a policy that is only selectively enforced. Aside from the practices mentioned in the survey, employers may also want to implement policies relating to:

  • Employee use of company equipment;
  • Cell-phones or “bring your own device to work” (BYOD)
  • Falsifying time records; and
  • General code of conduct policies relating to performance.

Notify employees about these policies. For instance, if you decide to monitor emails and Internet usage, you need to give employees notice so that they will not expect that these communications are private.

Measure Performance

One of the biggest keys to decreasing time-wasting at work is to set and measure employee performance using objective criteria. If an employee doesn’t meet the expected goals, it’s likely that he/she is experiencing performance issues. You can then take steps to address the performance.

Employers are expected to put employees on notice when performance issues or behavior can lead to disciplinary action. An established performance appraisal program is important to limit employer liability.

A thorough performance evaluation touches on an employee’s:

  • Successes;
  • Areas where improvement is needed; and
  • Productivity goals.

Finally, employers can further limit liability by educating supervisors on the importance of making a record of verbal warnings and performance discussions, even if the discussions seem informal, and documenting any noteworthy incidents about the employee’s ability, or inability, to perform a job or meet performance expectations. Store these documents in the employee’s personnel file.


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