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How We Waste Time at Work

How We Waste Time at Work

Annie Tucker Morgan | Divine Caroline

Corporate America has long been a source of fodder for comedians, anti-establishment naysayers, and even 9-to-5 workers themselves. Just this morning, as I waited for the bus alongside a cluster of other women, all of us wearing nearly identical black coats and sporting similar bags both on our shoulders and under our eyes, I watched a strapping young EMT with dreadlocks checking us out through the window of his ambulance. He smiled cruelly as he watched, as if thinking, Look at those office drones—they’re like cattle waiting to be herded downtown. They’re probably addicted to canned air.

This snarky sentiment is so prevalent in American society that animator/director Mike Judge wrote an entire movie in 1999—and a brilliant one at that—about just how bleak life inside cubicle walls can get. If you haven’t seen Office Space yet, drop everything and rent it. If you have, you probably laughed as hard as I did during the scene in which the main character, Peter Gibbons, describes a typical workday at his company, Initech, to two consultants who’ve been hired to orchestrate layoffs there. “I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late,” Peter begins, and goes on to say, “Uh, and after that, I just sorta space out for about an hour … I just stare at my desk, but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too … In a given week, I probably do about fifteen minutes of real, actual work.”

Peter may seem like an extreme example of workplace lassitude, but the truth is, many Americans aren’t far off from being just like him. According to a 2005 joint study by AOL (formerly America Online) and Salary.com, employees waste 2.09 hours on average in an eight-hour workday—and that doesn’t even include the time they take off for lunch. Those among us who delight in underachieving and finding loopholes may feel empowered by this statistic, but the bigger question is, exactly what are these people doing with all that downtime? And why do they feel justified in wasting so much of their own time and so much of their employers’ money?

Next Page: Procrastination Station →



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