Has there ever been a time when workers face more distractions? The internet and social media have added a vast array of new diversions to go with traditional time-wasters like gossiping in the tea room.
It's no surprise that researchers have discovered an alarming level of "cyberloafing" in modern workplaces.
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Top ways to slack off at work
In every office there is always someone who has mastered the art of shirking their responsibilities. Here are five common ways employees loaf about at work.
A study by American academics Joseph Ugrin and John Pearson published in 2013 found between 60 and 80 percent of people's time on the internet at work had nothing to do with work. Their survey of American office workers found older employees tended to spend time managing their finances online while younger workers spent more time on social networking sites like Facebook.
"We found that that for young people, it was hard to get them to think that social networking was unacceptable behaviour," says Ugrin, who studies behavioural and ethical issues related to accounting and information systems.
"Just having a policy in place did not change their attitudes or behaviour at all. Even when they knew they were being monitored, they still did not care."
Ugrin and Pearson concluded the only way to change people's attitudes was "to provide them with information" about other employees who were reprimanded.
Personal online shopping has emerged as another favourite work-time activity. Half of the respondents to a recent survey by employment website CareerBuilder said they planned to make internet purchases while at the office during America's end-of-year holiday season. Of that group, 42 per cent said they would spend an hour or more doing so. But beware – a separate CareerBuilder poll found the proportion of managers in the US that had fired someone for using the internet for "non-work-related activity" was higher in 2015 compared with the previous year.
Swedish sociologist Roland Paulsen, who has written a book about idleness at work called Empty Labor, says international statistics suggest the average time employees spend on non-work activities on the job is about two hours a day. He defines empty labour as "everything you do at work that is not your work".
Paulsen says private internet use is the main form of empty labour including managing personal emails, trawling social media, online share trading and watching cat videos. Plenty of time is also spent chatting with colleagues, resting and even sleeping.
Empty labour can simply be the result of workers slacking off but Paulsen argues it is often more complex than that. Sometimes poor management is to blame – employees are motivated to work but there are not enough tasks for them to do. Paulsen says empty labour can be a form of coping for workers – an employee might want to perform and have plenty to do, but non-work is used as stress relief. Paulsen has also encountered workers who consider their non-work while at work to be a form of resistance.
"Some interviewees expressed frustrations with their company or with a certain manager," Paulsen told the BBC recently. "There were also more political narratives involved … a sense that it's OK to take back some of the time that wage-labour consistently takes from us."
There is one factor that you'd expect to stop people loafing on the job: tough economic times and the threat of unemployment. But economists point out that when business is slow there tends to be less for employees to do – in other words an ideal time for workers to slack off.
A new paper by economists Michael Burda, Kaie Genadek, and Daniel Hamermersh tests how economic conditions affects worker effort using American time-use data between 2003 and 2012. This survey period included the great recession that hit the American economy following the global financial crisis. Sure enough, the proportion of workers who reported loafing while at work generally decreased during bad economic times when unemployment was high.