Currently, more than 60% of employees nationwide are not engaged in their work (Harter, 2021). Despite business leaders’ efforts to entice employees to engagement, recent statistics tell us that most employees still evade engagement strategies. How are today’s employees avoiding work and evading engagement? What are they doing to maintain their employment with minimal effort or output?
“The practice of work avoidance is one of the highest arts of employment. Anyone can get the job done, so to speak. But not everyone can spend 8 hours a day at their work station and get absolutely nothing accomplished.” - Bandersnatch Satire
Tactic #1: Cyberloafing
What is cyberloafing
Cyberloafing is defined as “using the internet where you work, during working hours, for activities that are not related to work” (Macmillan, n.d.). The Wisconsin School of Business estimates that depending on the employee, the time spent cyberloafing can range from “3 hours a week to as much as 2.5 hours per day” (2015). When employees are cyberloafing, they are pursuing social media accounts, checking their personal emails, reading the latest news articles, and conducting other unproductive activities. Cyberloafing wastes time, wastes money, and decreases productivity.
Cyberloafing not only distracts employees from work, it can also “lead to problems in information systems and data security” due to bandwidth challenges, “spyware infections, and virus malware” (Wisconsin School of Business, 2015). Employees who visit unsecured websites can inadvertently download malware and other problematic computer viruses, releasing highly sensitive information about their employer.
How cyberloafing goes unnoticed
In the traditional face-to-face workplace, cyberloafing can often go unnoticed. What appears to be a productive employee, using their desktop to write emails, contact customers, or do other various tasks, can actually be an employee reading the latest celebrity gossip. When managers don’t actively monitor their employees’ internet habits with productivity measures or monitoring software, employees’ cyberloafing habits can go unnoticed and easily slip through the cracks.
For remote employees, cyberloafing habits can be inhibited by productivity measures and monitoring programs. However, monitoring programs can be sidestepped by the determined employee. Some employees have resorted to creating contraptions that time screenshots, edit the code of software, trick the software with dual monitors, or continually move the computer’s mouse in order to appear “active” on the monitoring software. (Misic, 2019).
“Work can be defined as anything you’d rather not be doing… Productivity is a different matter.” - Scott Adams
Tactic #2: Acting busy
A public article posted anonymously shared several tips on “How to Avoid Work.” The number 1 tip was “LOOK BUSY.” This article states that “the successful work avoider must look busy, as opposed to being busy. Looking busy involves motion. Getting up, sitting down, moving papers around your desk… all are busy-looking functions with no productivity.” In his book “The Living Dead,” David Bolchover states that office life is “the dominance of image over reality, of obfuscation over clarity, of politics over performance” (Paulsen, 2014).
How acting busy goes unnoticed
For much of the same reasons that cyberloafing goes unnoticed, employees can put up a front of busyness and go unnoticed by the managerial eye. When managers do not continually monitor the output or productivity of their employees, they can easily mistake busyness for productivity. The same goes for managers who are managing a remote workforce. As previously discussed, employees can appear to be active and productive on monitoring software, but can actually be confusing or dodging the corporate monitoring software.
“It is not enough to be busy… the question is: what are we busy about?” - Henry David Thoreau
Tactic #3: Personal tasks
Not only are employees avoiding work engagement by mimicking busyness and deliberately cyberloafing, they are also strategically using working hours to complete personal tasks. Some employees can extend their official break times by a few minutes on either side to further accomplish their personal tasks. Others can make personal phone calls, have discussions with co-workers about not-work-related topics, or take “an unacceptable number of smoking breaks” (Zistemo, n.d.).
How personal tasks go unnoticed
Some of these tasks can appear like work but don’t produce any return on investment for businesses. Just like cyberloafing and acting busy, managers can perceive an employee on a personal phone call as work or miss the extra minute or two added to break times. Some monitoring software programs can estimate the time spent on break and away from the computer. This can be especially helpful for managers who have noticed an increase in the amount of break time taken by employees. However, monitoring software can only provide information, it cannot provide adequate management. Managers must use the data provided and collected from productivity measures to examine which employees are working and which are avoiding work.
Why employees avoid work
“Each of us must find meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will improve other people’s lives.” - Satya Nadella
Many employees disengage from their work as a means to reenergize from their workload. Having what some experts call “microbreaks” can help employees maintain productivity levels and reduce stress (Gorvett, 2019). However, these “microbreaks” can become lethal to productivity if they go unchecked. Research doesn’t yet know what is the best amount of time for a microbreak, but employers can keep an eye out for microbreaks that have grown to extended absences (Stokel-Walker, 2020).
Feelings of distrust or a lack of fairness
Research shows that even the most resilient to cyberloafing employees will succumb to cyberloafing “if they feel there is a lack of justice or fair treatment in the workplace” (Wisconsin School of Business, 2015). This distrust and a lack of fairness can cause stress and feelings of unhappiness for employees. To avoid these negative feelings, employees can distract themselves from their work, decreasing productivity and wasting time.
In his interviews with employees who avoid work, Roland Paulsen discovered that most of these employees avoid work because they don’t like their jobs. Paulsen states that “For most people, work simply sucks” as an explanation for disengaged employees (2014). When employees don’t see purpose or meaning in their career, they can easily excuse cyberloafing, acting busy, and finishing personal tasks.
Not enough to-do
According to a survey by salary.com, the most common reason for wasting time at work is not having “enough work to do” (2007). Employees who are not aware of the tasks and goals that they need to accomplish can tend to cyberloaf under the impression that they have finished their necessary work.
How employers can counteract work avoidance
It is vital that employers encourage employees to be engaged with their work because of the immense impact that engaged employees have on businesses. However, it is also important that employers analyze how their employees might be intentionally avoiding work altogether. In doing so, they can not only increase productivity but also identify where extra monitoring or management is needed. For example, employers who notice increased breaks amongst employees can start a break monitoring practice. Doing this can further support engagement strategies and support the overall productivity of employees. Furthermore, creating programs that monitor employee productivity and internet usage can discourage employees from cyberloafing or acting busy.
“Intentional leadership. The moment when your business starts to grow.” - Alin Sav
The main takeaway
Employees worldwide are more likely to be disengaged, cyberloafing, and encouraging of work avoidance strategies than engaged and actively participating employees. Employees who wish to avoid working often take up cyberloafing, act busy, and complete personal tasks during work hours. All of these behaviors can be misinterpreted as productive behaviors if managers are not aware of their occurrence. Employers and executive coaches who are aware of these work avoidance behaviors can encourage managers to intentionally monitor productivity for these work avoidance strategies, ultimately increasing productivity and enhancing already in place employee engagement strategies.
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” - Paul J. Meyer
Stokel-Walker, C. (2020, February 7). Cyberloafing: The line between rejuvenating and wasting time. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200206-cyberloafing-the-line-between-rejuvenating-and-wasting-time
Bandersnatch. (n.d.). Retrieved September 7, 2021, from http://www.bandersnatch.com/inner15.htm
Harter, J. (2021, February 26). U.S. Employee Engagement Rises Following Wild 2020. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/330017/employee-engagement-rises-following-wild-2020.aspx
Gorvett, Z. (2019, March 12). The tiny breaks that ease your body and reboot your brain. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190312-the-tiny-breaks-that-ease-your-body-and-reboot-your-brain
Macmillan. (n.d.). CYBERLOAFING (noun) American English definition and synonyms: Macmillan Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/cyberloafing
Misic, A. (2019, September 12). 4 Most Common Ways Employees Trick Monitoring Software. Retrieved from https://www.workpuls.com/blog/employees-tricking-monitoring-software
Paulsen, R. (2014, November 03). The Art of Not Working at Work. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/11/the-art-of-not-working-at-work/382121/
Salary.com. (2007, July 27). US Employees Waste 20% of Their Work Day According to Salary.com. Retrieved from https://rismedia.com/2007/07/26/us-employees-waste-20-of-their-work-day-according-to-salarycom/
Wisconsin School of Business. (2015, June 25). Driven to Distraction-What Causes Cyberloafing at Work? Retrieved from https://business.wisc.edu/news/driven-to-distraction-what-causes-cyberloafing-at-work/
Zistemo. (n.d.). 7 Employee Time Wasting Habits - How to Break The Bad Habits with Your Team? Retrieved from https://zistemo.com/blog/7-employee-time-wasting-habits/
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