“Half the time men think they are talking business, they are wasting time.” - E.W. Howe
Do you know how much time is wasted in your business? Despite the appearance your employees may have of busy productivity, a study from the Harvard Business School strongly suggests otherwise. How is this possible, and how can it be fixed? Let’s find out.
According to this study, employers lose $100 billion each year to time that employees spend idle in the office. This came as a surprise to the researchers, Professor Teresa Amabile and Professor Andrew Brodsky, who expected a significant loss to idle time, but did not expect such a large sum to be lost to idle time.
For clarification, in this case, idle time is time during which an employee is ready and available to work, but something is preventing them from being productive. Causes of this kind of idle time can range from poor task allocation, built-in access capacity to protect against a sudden uptick in work, to simple equipment management and availability.
As a part of their research, Amabile and Brodsky ran a series of experiments to test the effects of being idle. Having their subjects copy over sentences (including typos) with no access to the Internet or phones, they discovered that the participants would draw out their task to fit the time they had to spend to avoid just idly sitting there. However, if the participants were able to surf the Internet once their task was completed, their task was completed much more quickly, without any more errors than the other trial indicated. Going slower didn’t lead to any fewer errors, either - the same tasks just took longer. The researchers called this tendency to slow down the “deadtime effect,” contrasting the “deadline effect” that causes an increase in productivity as a deadline approaches.
Based on their research, Amabile and Brodsky came to the conclusion that some strategic “leisure” time (like the time that could be spent surfing the Internet in their trials) could help prevent the negative influence that idle time could bring to a workplace. By promoting transparency and basing the evaluation of their employees on outcomes, managers could allow employees to take some leisure time... and still benefit from it themselves.
In addition to increasing the productivity of their employees by adding a bit of incentive, management could be given a better idea of how long a task should take. As a result, they could more efficiently allocate and schedule their employees’ time, allowing the employees to accomplish more throughout their day without sacrificing the quality of the end result.
How have you improved productivity in the workspace? Let us know in the comments, and take a second to subscribe to our blog!