Working hard or hardly working?

U.S. workers say they squander over two hours a day at the workplace, with surfing the Web, socializing with co-workers and simply “spacing out” among the top time-wasting activities, according to a survey released on Monday. Most U.S. companies assume about an hour of wasted time, but workers admit to actually frittering away more than twice as much time at a cost of $759 billion in annual paid salary that results in no apparent productivity, an online survey conducted by America Online and showed. Wasted time did not include the standard lunch hour. Of 10,044 employee respondents, 33 percent said they engaged in time-wasting activities because they didn’t have enough work to do. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they squandered their work hours because they were underpaid.

(Read on, here.) (Reminds me of that old SNL skit where a Japanese executive–played by Dana Carvey, I believe–goes into spin-control after calling American workers fat and lazy: “Some are fat, some are lazy, and some are fat and lazy. But I did not mean to, you know, generalize.”) If anything the “over two hours” figure probably understates the amount of slacking off. After all, survey respondents typically sugarcoat their answers (according to travel diaries no one has ever visited a nudie bar). Nick Gillespie points to the AOL wrap-up which includes a state-by-state breakdown (Missouri tops the slacker list with 3.2 hours of screwing off per day). In a roundabout way this should make managers warm up to telecommuting. Many resist it precisely because they’re worried about workers screwing off at home. But lots of evidence suggests telecommuters are actually more productive and, as the AOL/ survey suggests, being “at” work is no guarantee that workers are actually working. We’re often quick to notice the potential distractions at home, but as this British study points out, there are plenty of productivity-sapping distractions at the office.

In 80 clinical trials, Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King’s College London University, monitored the IQ of workers throughout the day. He found the IQ of those who tried to juggle messages and work fell by 10 points — the equivalent to missing a whole night’s sleep …

This Harvard study argues that presenteeismââ?¬â??when workers are at work, but out of itââ?¬â??costs businesses more than absenteeism. Perhaps more managers will shift away from the clock-punching mentality and look more closely at what workers actually accomplish.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.