Don’t Measure My Productivity By Looking Over My Shoulder

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Your boss is obsessed about how you spend your time.

We workers squander hour after work hour gabbing on the phone to mates, surfing the web for hot new outfits, playing Sudoku on our Crackberries–that is, according to HR surveys, books and product promos meant to teach employers how to crack the whip. Time-wasting is apparently at an all-time high in March, when college basketball season hits its peak. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas even places a dollar figure on the expected productivity loss: a staggering $3.8 billion. Here’s the report:

The decision by CBS Sports to offer free online viewing of men’s college basketball games during the annual NCAA championship tournament (better known as March Madness) is great news for hoops fans but it could be disastrous for the nation’s employers, who will undoubtedly see a significant drop-off in worker productivity.

The cost of this productivity drain could prove to be substantial over the three weeks of the tournament. In fact, for every 13.5 minutes workers spend on the Internet watching March Madness games, which begin on March 16, the cost to employers in lost wages alone exceeds $237 million. Over the 16 days of the tournament that could reach as high as $3.8 billion.

One company even invented some sort of software that locks down sports web sites during March Madness (you reading this, my friends at ESPN.com?). Here’s the pitch:

With all the excitement of March Madness and office bracket pools around the corner, many employees will spend a considerate amount of time at work checking scores, standings, stats and all the latest news on the NCAA tournament. Norlight Telecommunications has been using their Managed Security Gateway services for a content filtering solution to help companies with this problem. Norlight can put an end to the non-productive web surfing by not allowing employees to view sites like CBSsportsline.com, ESPN.com and NCAA.org.

What kind of jerky employer would do that? Moreover, wouldn’t that inspire employees to try more creative–and time-consuming–avenues, such as sneaking out to the corner bar to check out the scores? Or taking their cell phones outside to tap into ESPN.com’s mobile web casts? Or making their poor girlfriends sit by the TV and call in every 5 minutes with updates?

But do workers waste nearly as much time at work as their bosses think? Administrative staffing company OfficeTeam commissioned a survey that highlighted a discrepancy:

• Workers were asked, “How much time each day do you think you spend attending to personal tasks during work hours?” Their mean response: 36 minutes.

• Executives were asked, “How much time each day do you think the average employee spends attending to personal tasks during work hours?” Their mean response: 43 minutes.

Me, I probably spend a lot more than 36 minutes on a given work day visiting doctors, researching my dad’s stock transfer, going to the gym and e-mailing pictures of my sister’s fourth baby (not all at once–I’m not that efficient). But here I am on a Sunday afternoon filing a blog post, researching a story assignment, sorting my notes on another assignment and plugging potential sources into a spreadsheet (yes, all at once–I guess I am kind of efficient).

All I’m saying is, measure my work by its quality, not quantity. But hey, sure, if you’re going to measure quantity, embrace the fact that we 21st century workers simply don’t do the 9-to-5 that well. Let us decide where to place those 40 hours. Remember when Mayor Bloomberg fired that New York City employee a year ago for having Solitaire up on his computer screen as he happened past? Maybe that worker was just taking a breather because he’d plugged away at his deadline project well into the a.m. the night before.

We live as we work, we work as we live. Let the people have their March Madness, and they may just give you a record-breaking April.

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