One of the most depressing aspects of life under the tyranny of the lawyer’s timesheet is getting to the end of a long day and being quite unable to account for substantial parts of it.  Not just as in “can’t put it on a particular file”, but as in “can’t remember anything about it at all”.  Time not so much wasted as lost altogether.

However, although particularly irritating in a business which sells time, there is some consolation this week in a report on financial news website hereisthecitynews concerning a survey by US safety training video company  This suggests that the average US office worker admits to wasting about three hours per working day, excluding lunch and scheduled breaks.  Clearly it is being done very successfully as these things go – the statistics suggest that the average HR department assumes the effective loss of about one hour per day and fears that it may be as much as ninety minutes, and therefore that it clearly has no actual idea of the full extent of the problem at all.

So where does the time go?  Distractions surrendered to include surfing the net (44%), socialising with colleagues (23%), applying for other jobs (1.3%) and the rather worrying “spacing out” (4%).  Older workers waste less than a third of the time of their junior colleagues, perhaps because of the predominance of internet access among the most popular ways to idle away your day.  64% of workers surveyed admitted to personal use of the internet during work hours, perhaps explaining why 60% of online purchases and 65% of YouTube visits take place during the normal working day.

77% of workers with a Facebook account use it during the working day.  Showing a cross between commendable independence of thought and astonishing naivety, 39% of employed 18-24 year olds would consider quitting if Facebook were banned at their work.  For Heaven’s sake, people, get a grip.  After 25, this percentage shrinks to a still faintly concerning 16% for the rest of the workplace.

Those responding to the survey are clearly keeping better tabs on their time than am I, in that they at least had conscious reasons for wasting their time, whereas I cannot trace it at all.  23% of survey respondents took some time out during the day because they felt underpaid, 33% because there was a lack of available work and 15% because they were distracted by co-workers.

All that revolves of course around the question of whether time at work not working is necessarily “wasted” in the holistic sense of the term.  As employer you could squeeze every distraction out of the workplace, ban the internet, scrub Facebook and sack those who are temporarily under-utilised, but to what end?  This will simply create a terminally joyless place to work, morale will plummet and the only indicators showing growth will be employee turnover and absenteeism.  Even those employers for whom a good work:life balance for staff means their being at work while still alive, there is a more than decent business case for a little judicious time-wasting now and again.  As a minimum, that is what I will be telling my bosses at the year end.