Time Wasters While On the Clock
Published on: August 23, 2021
"You've got a new match!"
Whether you use a dating app or not, a notification like that is hard to ignore.
Long gone are the days when we didn't have gadgets beeping at us all day long.
But here's the thing. Most of us actually need such distractions. Otherwise, we'd completely burn out at work.
Resume-Now took up the challenge to find out what those top distractions were, conducting a survey of 950+ U.S. workers to ask:
- What workday time wasters were the most popular
- Why workers felt they needed to procrastinate
- How much of a distraction kids were for remote-working parents
- If they searched for new jobs while working
- If they'd gotten the sack for slacking off too much
- Who's posting selfies instead of doing their work
The takeaways from the study show the role which gender, age, region, level of education, and work situation (remote, hybrid, in-office) had in the preferred go-to work escapes.
For example, 42% of females said Facebook was their top social media platform time waster vs. 30% of males.
Let's dig into the myriad ways respondents got waylaid.
The Top Time Wasters
Maybe you're reading this article when you should be answering that email from Francine in accounting because you're really just not in the mood.
Turns out you're not alone.
Most of the respondents in the study were engrossed in activities that were not work tasks during their work day.
Doing something with/for kid(s) was selected as the top workplace distraction (14%). Which translates to 137 people out of 980 selected this as the #1 thing which takes them from their work.
Those small people really know how to stir up big distractions.
Under Pressure—Parents Can't Escape
Remote working parents have a lot on their plate. Between lost toy expeditions, emergency snack preparations, and "urgent" inquiries, such as…
Why are the things on a comb called teeth? Can they bite?!
Kids are a force to be reckoned with, and it's no surprise that "doing something with or for my kid(s)" was the #1 activity that derailed work focus.
As can be seen from the infographic above, kids interrupted workflow frequently, especially for remote working parents, which stands to reason.
The male respondents were slightly more distracted by their kids than the women.
- 46% of men agreed that their kids were a major distraction, whereas 39% of women agreed
And industry played a role in who had to attend to their kids more. Those in Business and Finance (53%) said the youngsters at home with them were a major distraction, compared with those in Software/IT (41%).
Perhaps those computer-savvy employees are more pro-device with their kids? Kids watching shows or playing video games definitely keeps them out of your hair.
And when you're home with a kid or kids, it's natural to crave peer-level conversation.
In fact, with remote work being so commonplace these days, many of us are using messaging more to connect with each other.
Coming in at a solid second place was "scrolling aimlessly on a device."
Which means that out of 980 respondents, 12% (or 118 people) selected this as the activity that takes them away from work the most.
Men were scrolling fans a bit more than women.
- 14% of men selected scrolling aimlessly on a device as their top time waster compared to 11% of women'
The Millennials and younger scrolled without purpose more than the Gen X and up group.
- 14% of those 38 and under picked scrolling aimlessly as their #1 time waster vs. 11% of those 39 and older
Well, we've all gotten sucked into the mind-numbing scroll, click, scroll cycle.
Let's, uh, keep scrolling to find out what's in third place!
A Three-Way Tie for Third: Messaging, Video Games, and Job Searching
Connecting with a real, live person on a messaging app and connecting with virtual people in a video game constructed world were equally popular, as well as searching for a new gig.
- 78 respondents picked "messaging" as their #1 time waster
- 78 respondents chose "playing video games" as their #1 time waster
- and 78 selected "searching for a new job" as their #1 time waster
Blah, Blah, Blah
Who chose chatting on a messaging platform as the #1 activity that takes them away from work?
Women were a bit more… chatty than the men:
- 47% of females selected "chatting" as their #1 workplace distraction activity vs. 43% of males.
The Gen X and over crowd was more likely to text than the #Millennials and under:
- 10% of the older respondents selected messaging as their #1 time waster compared with just 6% of the whippersnappers
Following on from that, for those who were working onsite at their workplace:
- 8% of those 39 and up selected "chatting in person with a coworker," vs. a scant 2% of those 38 and under.
Not to sound stereotypical about millennials or anything; it's no secret they've gotten a bad rap about their lack of in-person communication skills.
The evidence from this study does seem to support that perception. Those who've had a greater number of years communicating in person selected "chatting in person with coworkers" much more than those who had greater exposure to devices and technology at an early age.
According to the Concordia Journal of Communication Research article, "Bridging the Gap: How the Generations Communicate":
"Millennials like to communicate over text or internet because it allows them to have more control over their interactions than if the interaction was over the phone or face to face."
Additionally, the younger respondents rated other things as preferred time wasters over chatting in the Resume-Now study, such as playing video games, posting on social media, looking for love (or something), on a dating app, and searching for a new job.
In fact, searching for a job was in third place for time wasters for Millennials and younger. By comparison, searching for a job was in seventh place for Gen X and older.
Another stereotype about Millennials—the so-called "digital natives"—they love their video games.
But, is it true?
Master Chief and Basim Beckon
Do video game characters call you personally by name when you're knee deep in work tasks and know the difference between RPG and FPS?
If you answered, "Yes!" then you're in good company. As one of the time wasters in the three-way tie for third place, it's certainly popular.
The generation gap in those who picked "playing video games" as their top time waster was not as large as was expected.
38 and under—9%
As we all know, video-game playing is a typically male-oriented activity. But, was that the case in our study? Yes, it was.
And, if you find you prefer playing video games to your work for a significant part of your day, it may be time to find a new job.
Many respondents selected "searching for a new job" as their top time waster.
New Horizon Hunting
Bosses, sorry to tell you, but employees do spend time searching and applying for positions with new and different bosses during precious business hours.
That's what can be extrapolated from the study and seen in the infographics below.
It's human nature to seek better circumstances. We want to feel secure and to enjoy what we do. Males were more likely in the study to spend 3+ hours per week looking for a new gig at 20% vs. 14% of females. It's well known that the pressure to be a "breadwinner" can push men to try to bring home more bacon.
Looking for another job was selected by 8% of the respondents, but a close second at 7% was spending time on a dating app.
Seems a lot of employees are looking to level up both professionally and romantically.
Three Favorites in 4th Place: Dating Apps, Watching Videos, and Social Media
Who was binge watching their favorite series, or finding out they had a "perfect match," or posting a #mynewbikini selfie on the beach instead of doing their work?
Let's find out!
Swiping Left and Right
Whether you're more of a Match.com or a Tinder type, swiping left and right on a dating app was the #1 activity for 7% of all respondents.
Which is the equivalent of 69 people out of the 980 who responded. A bit ironic.
Interestingly, those with no college degree selected "dating app" as their #1 time waster much less often than those with college degrees.
- Associate or bachelor's —9%
- Master's or doctorate —6%
- No degree —2%
It's difficult (and dangerous) to hypothesize as to why this was the case.
So—swiftly moving on to social media.
I love a good Netflix binge!
With the popularity of Netflix and easy access to YouTube, binge watching shows and consuming copious amounts of funny baby videos is hard to resist…even during business hours.
The most significant difference in who selected watching videos as their top time waster was in regards to education level.
"Watching videos" as the top workplace time waster:
No college degree—11%
Associate's or Bachelor's degree—6%
Master's or Doctorate degree—4%
Men were a bit more enticed by watching videos, with 8% selecting this, compared to 5% of women. Well, we didn't ask what kind of videos…
And, the location of where the respondents worked had an understandable impact on selecting "watching videos."
100% in the office—4%
This stands to reason, as a boss might not be too thrilled to see Game of Thrones on your work computer while you're sitting at your desk.
But, video-watching is not more popular than posting and commenting on social media, the other time waster that shares the fourth place slot.
Social Media Rabbit Hole
Pandemic lockdowns showed us how fruitful and rewarding social media can be.
Our reliance on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube for interaction and social stimulation was never stronger. It served a purpose, and we had a positive reward from it: interconnectedness.
That's why 6% of 980—or 59 respondents—chose social media as their number one workplace diversion.
And, most of the respondents check social media frequently.
In fact, nearly 1 out of 2 people (49%) agreed with the statement "I feel I need to check social media often."
"Often"—that's a key word.
People are on FB like white on that rice you had for dinner and just posted a picture of on FB. This is in line with the Pew Research Center's Social Media Factsheet, which breaks down social media usage demographically.
The Pew report shows that from 2012 to 2018, Facebook was the most popular social media platform. It also shows that currently 69% of U.S. adults mainly use Facebook, whereas 40% use Instagram.
YouTube surpassed FB in 2018, but FB has stayed miles above Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Pinterest, TikTok, Reddit, and others since 2012.
From the Resume-Now study, women were fond of FB much more than men. For the question regarding which social media platform "takes you away from work the most," 42% of women selected FB vs. only 30% of men.
These results also aligned with the Pew research finding that Facebook is more popular with women, as Pew found that 77% of women use FB vs. 61% of men.
From the results of the Resume-Now study, Instagram was the most popular flavor of social media for men—31% picked Insta, compared with 24% of women.
Also, YouTube attracted more men (15%) than women (9%) in the Resume-Now study.
Which leads us to the dark side of social media.
Social media platforms lead us down a rabbit hole of unfruitful channels—causing us to flush precious time down the toilet.
In the journal article, "Impact of Social Media Addiction on Employees' Wellbeing and Work Productivity" the authors conclude that employees who overindulge in social media when they're supposed to be working have difficulty performing their expected tasks and even suffer mentally.
From the themes that emerged in this study, it is evident that the employees who make excessive use of social media at home and at their workplace are struggling to meet the performance expectations of their employers. Further, addiction to social media channels are leading to increased health issues and lifestyle disorders among the employees. According to the participants in this study, social media addiction also causes a dent in their personal and professional relationships and…leads to a sense of insecurity and an inferiority complex.
The bottom line: it's important to utilize technology to keep connected with friends and family, but be aware if it's taking up too much time and making your productivity suffer.
If you keep it up, you'll be needing to explain yourself to your boss in one of those uncomfortable and awkward, "We've noticed you're not meeting your work goals…" meetings.
Top Excuses, Er, Reasons for Not Working
Sloth is equal in nefariousness to greed, lust, theft, and murder.
-Henry Wykliffe, 1142
Well, that's a bit…extreme. But, laziness in 1142 wasn't as tolerated and accepted as it is today.
After all, they didn't have Starcraft or Ferrero Rocher chocolates sitting in the cabinet beckoning them while they worked.
As can be seen from the infographics above, outside distractions were more of a challenge for women—21% of whom picked this as their reason for not doing their work, vs. 14% of males.
It's possible that this is due to the extra duties women typically take on in the home.
Researchers have exposed the truth that women who had to work from home due to the pandemic were expected to bear the brunt of housework and childcare in addition to their actual jobs, as in "Women's Work, Housework and Childcare, before and during COVID-19":
We show that the current crisis further increased the workload of women, resulting from both their occupation and housework.
That's a humdinger of a time waster if their partners aren't chipping in as much as they could.
In regards to the regional influence, those residing in the chilled-out West weren't that affected by outside distractions, it seemed.
Interestingly, those with degrees needed to be "in the mood" to work more than those with no degree.
Age groups had different reasons for not doing their work. But both the 39 and older and the 38 and under groups selected "I know I can do my work at the last minute" as their #1 reason within one percentage point: 24% for the older generation and 23% for the younger.
But the reasons differed in importance for the two age groups.
The top 5 reasons for not working for the 39+ group:
- 24%—I know I can do my work at the last minute
- 19%—Outside distractions are impossible to ignore
- 18%—I have to be in the mood
- 10%—Difficulty getting started
- 9%—I don't know how to do some tasks, so I avoid doing them
The top 5 reasons for not working for those 38 and under:
- 23%—I know I can do my work at the last minute
- 21%—I have to be in the mood
- 15%—Outside distractions are impossible to ignore
- 11%—Difficulty getting started
Both groups were similarly uninspired by their jobs: 3% selected "my boss doesn't inspire me enough" in each group.
In the younger group 3% picked, "I want to leave my job, so I don't care that much," just a scant bit more than 2% of the older group.
If your job isn't your cup of tea, chances are you're spending time seeking a new one. Heck, even leaders at companies who love their jobs sometimes peruse Glassdoor for more interesting opportunities.
Nearly half of the survey takers had gotten into trouble for not doing their work. To what extent wasn't specified, but some were fired for their lack of focus.
Most surprisingly, those with the highest level degrees—54%—had been punished for not attending to their work the most. Just 10% of those with no college degree had received consequences.
And least surprisingly, those working remotely all the time or some of the time had gotten "dehired" (yes that's an actual term!) due to time wasters getting in the way of work.
Resume-Now asked, "Have you ever lost a job due to not working enough because you were doing other stuff?
Here is the breakdown for those who had lost a job due to time wasters:
- 100% remote—31%
- 100% at work location—27%
It's no secret that it can be more difficult to focus when there's no boss breathing down your neck and other more interesting things at your fingertips while working from home.
Whether you're working remotely or in the office, or a bit of both, focusing on work can be challenging. Distractions seem to be competing for our attention. Of course, taking a break from work is healthy.
In fact, 72% of respondents agreed with the statement, "Breaks during work are essential to not getting burned out."
Multitasking, even if it's time wasters mixed with work, is not ideal. Texting your friend about going out for Thai while watching a Diversity and Inclusion Training means neither task is getting your full focus.
As the journal article "Multiple Dimensions of Multitasking Phenomenon" points out,
"…multitasking has become an expected skill. In today's world, we are all pressured to complete as many tasks as possible rather than give our full attention to perfecting one thing in a limited time frame. Multitasking will continue to be a concern and significance for human beings."
And, employers, take note.
Lack of inspiration, not liking the job, and a demotivating boss all play a part as well. Make sure your employees are being recognized and motivated. Check in with them to see how they're feeling and what you can do to make their experience better.
We surveyed 950+ respondents online via a bespoke polling tool on their top time wasters while on the clock. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question. The study was created through several steps of research, crowdsourcing, and surveying.
The data we are presenting relies on self-reports from respondents. Each person who took our survey read and responded to each question without any research administration or interference. There are many potential issues with self-reported data like selective memory, telescoping, attribution, or exaggeration.
Some questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent; depending on the case, this can be due to rounding, or due to being part of a larger statistic, or due to responses of "neither/uncertain/unknown" not being presented.
Fair Use Statement
Don't miss the chance to share these findings—–you might regret it! If you think your audience will be interested in this information, you can share it for noncommercial reuse. All we ask in return is that you link back to this page so that your readers can view the full study.
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- Boca, D., Oggero, N., Profeta, P., Rossi, M. Women's Work, Housework and Childcare, before and during COVID-19
- Downs, H., "Bridging the Gap: How the Generations Communicate"
- Grewal, D., "Improving Concentration and Mindfulness in Learning through Meditation"
- Herman, R., "Letter from the Editor-in-Chief: Digital Distractions"
- Lin, L. S. "Multiple Dimensions of Multitasking Phenomenon"
- Matusz, P., Merkley R., Turoman, N., Scerif, G., "How Do Kids and Grown-Ups Get Distracted in Everyday Situations?"
- Nass, C., Ophir, E. Wagner, A. "Cognitive control in media multitaskers"
- Nichols, T., Smith, T., "Understanding the Millennial Generation"
- Mandal, A., "The Pomodoro Technique: An Effective Time Management Tool"
- Pew Research Center "Social Media Fact Sheet"