Slackers Unite

Discussion
Jul 13, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

A survey conducted by America Online and Salary.com says the average worker in the U.S. is a slacker. Results from about 10,000 respondents to the survey found the typical employee spends more than two hours a day on the job not working, and that doesn’t include lunch.

Not all of the time spent not working is necessarily unproductive, according to Bill Coleman, senior vice president at Salary.com. The two most popular ways of not working on the job include using the Internet and socializing with fellow employees. These activities, when channeled correctly, can generate new ideas for doing business.

Still, the two hours not spent in pursuit of assigned tasks is twice what employers expect from their workers, said Mr. Coleman.

In addition to Internet usage and socializing with fellow employees, the study lists conducting personal business, including running errands and making personal phone calls, as well as the ever-popular spacing out/daydreaming, as the reasons most give for doing something other than working while on the job.

As for why workers are not working on the job, roughly one-third say they don’t have enough work to do. Nearly one in four say they are intentionally less productive than they could be because they feel they are being underpaid.

The study did not track the amount of time employees spend working while on their personal time.

Moderator’s Comment: What is your analysis of the AOL/Salary.com survey on how employees spend their time at work? What is your assessment of the productivity
of retail workers in all facets of the business (store, headquarters, etc.)?

Our experience is that most retail employees (at store-level anyway) who spend more time idling than they should often do so because of their view that
they are not getting paid enough to do what’s being asked of them.

While not about retailing, James C. Scott’s Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (Yale University Press, 1985) speaks to what
the author calls the “constant struggle between the peasantry and those who seek to extract labor, food, taxes, rents, and interest from them.”

“Most forms of this struggle,” writes Mr. Scott, “stop well short of outright collective defiance.” Instead, the author cites “the ordinary weapons of relatively
powerless groups” as the means by which they fight back. Among these are “foot dragging, dissimulation, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage,
and so on.”

Mr. Scott believes that, throughout history, these forms of resistance “represent a form of individual self-help.”
George Anderson – Moderator

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11 Comments on "Slackers Unite"


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Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
Guest
Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
15 years 7 months ago

I think you have to break it down into salaried and hourly and probably by age also. My sense is salaried workers are held to a different standard and in many cases have a reward tied to their performance. As such I would suspect that they would be under the 2 hour swing point. On the other hand there are survivors in the salaried and management ranks that know how to work the system — don’t underestimate them! And down time, even at work, can provide thoughts and discussions that can contribute to new ideas and happier workers. Certain types of individuals need this to be able to operate effectively. These people can be creative individuals. and they can also be the first ones to be downsized. I would bet that older workers, in general, are better workers.

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 7 months ago

The real answer to the survey question is that “it depends.” What sort of retail environment makes a huge difference to the amount of work people do. If it’s a store that only gets a dozen or so customers per day, there is going to be a lot of standing around by employees in between customers, but it’s not as if they could be let go – they need to be there for those 12 customers.

If they work in a supermarket, I suspect there is much less than 2 hours spent idly. And I have no doubt that those numbers accurately reflect the time office workers spend in other-than-work pursuits. However, it is meaningless unless one also knows how many hours, on average, they work per week.

(I have long maintained, that as a freelancer, employers get much more value for their dollar because I’m never charging them for all that wasted time. I only charge for when I’m actually working. I may send this article to every client I’ve ever worked with.)

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 7 months ago

I believe retail workers work harder than we think they do, especially when put in the context of what they get paid. Sure, they spend time chatting or whatever, but they are also on their feet all day, stocking shelves, dealing with surly customers, etc. Hard as companies may try, good morale can’t be mandated. Tell employees how many minutes they have for a break, make sure to punch in, not to be late, etc. and they can find ways around the rules. Create a team-oriented working environment where people actually like each other, and productivity will improve.

Heather Carpenter
Guest
Heather Carpenter
15 years 7 months ago

I think only the slackers bothered to fill out the survey.

Julie Pierce
Guest
Julie Pierce
15 years 7 months ago

Seriously, at certain stores it seems to be worse than at others.

When associates feel connected, they work harder. When they feel they are being taken advantage of, they don’t care.

Bernadette Budnic
Guest
Bernadette Budnic
15 years 7 months ago

I work for a retail corporation that has slashed payroll hours. In effect, it’s practically single coverage.

I find this counterproductive to sales!

Who wants to be waited on by a salesperson or cashier that is so bogged down with multi-tasking while also being responsible for customer sales and service that it ruins their attitude?

What I’m witnessing is that so-called “non-productive” time is actually productive for a healthy attitude toward their jobs. It gives them time to blow off that surly customer that just left, or distract them from the repetitious work that can become mind-numbing.

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 7 months ago
I was pleased to see that retail didn’t make it into the top 5 time-wasting industries. At least that’s a positive! That being said, this among other so-called polls, surveys and the like continue to surprise me to the extent of the amount of coverage that they stimulate as well as the assumption that they are true and accurate. Do you see anything scientific in this disclaimer? “America Online and Salary.com conducted in-depth research relating to time wasted at work among 10,044 respondents during May and June, 2005. Populations surveyed included AOL users, Salary.com Salary Wizard users and corporate human resource professionals. Respondents were asked to indicate how much time they wasted in an average workday, assuming a workweek consisting of five 8-hour days. Demographic information, including respondent geography, job category and gender was also collected in the study. Data was analyzed by Salary.com’s team of Certified Compensation Professionals.” The largest message in the so-called survey is the level of ‘wasted time’ on internet usage. Not a great message to AOL. But employers certainly might… Read more »
beverly simcic
Guest
beverly simcic
15 years 7 months ago

I am really tired of hearing EXCUSES about retail employees! If I had made excuses in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and the same for my husband; we both work every day at a goal in life.

My husband has always said that an employee works the same for $6.00 an hour as they would for $15.00 an hour, and he’s right! If someone’s work ethic is great, it doesn’t matter what they’re getting paid; they work at the same level all the time. They are the employees that ultimately get the promotions and raises. Case closed.

This country is in sad shape, and it’s because too many people make too many excuses for those who have no work ethic at all.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Some underlying issues:

How does your organization measure productivity? How does your organization screen for, and reward, productivity? What does your organization do to improve productivity?

How many retail firms can answer these questions with pride?

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

I was at a Hy-Vee store recently and watched a crew of employees stocking shelves machine-gun style while the store manager called out a cadence like a drill instructor. Next, I went to one of those unionized chain stores. There I saw employees lounging and relaxing at a picnic table in front of the store smoking cigarettes in view of customers. It comes down to money. Hy-Vee employees get bonuses based on profits. This other chain pays people the same union wage regardless of profit.

Carey P. Berger, J.D.
Guest
Carey P. Berger, J.D.
15 years 7 months ago
Three comments/questions and a story come to mind… First, the expectation that one will be fully engaged in work at all times while at work may vary by culture — generational and regional differences, etc. “The Midwest Work Ethic” seems to imply one works “hard” from “sun-up to sun-down” but is this universal? Perhaps not. Second, is it necessarily a good thing if one does follow the above prescribed work ethic? Will the work be productive if literally every hour on the job one is “giving 100%”? Is there a place for “sharpening the saw”? Third, is it possible that the battle over wages for productivity already takes into account some wasted time? Perhaps employers would indeed pay more if there were more productivity from an employee so the wages given were actually in line at this level of productivity. Finally, a story… I remember as a child (not a very stealthy child really) somehow every Sunday as we were driving to Grandma’s house I always seemed to manage to sneak one piece of chicken… Read more »
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