Productivity tools decrease UK productivity by over £50bn a year?

A survey suggests that digital interruptions - social media, email, searching for stray documents etc - distract employees for 'at least' an hour a day. Who knew?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 21 Feb 2012
Here at MT, we’re bombarded with press releases every day extolling the virtues of one ‘collaboration tool’ or another. But there are downsides to this new way of working, according to a survey by market research firm uSamp – 57.8bn of them, to be exact. It reckons the average employee wastes at least an hour a day on email, social networks, or instant/ text messaging. Based on an average salary of £14.25 an hour (that’s somewhere between 28k and 30k, on our calculations), that adds up to £3,277.50 of wasted productivity per person per year – which for big companies with 1,000+ employees, equates to more than £3m a year. That adds up to a total cost to UK plc of £57.8bn. Ouch…

OK, so that £58bn figure appears to be based on some rather heroic assumptions (average salary, number of employees, that everyone employed by a company has a job which gives them access to the internet etc). But the basic premise rings true. Apparently, email accounts for almost a quarter of distractions, while 10% report getting sidetracked while they’re switching windows on their computer, and ‘personal online activities’ like Facebook account for another 9%. In fact, 45% of workers say they can only work for 15 minutes or less without being interrupted, while a quarter admit they now have ‘no time for deep or creative thinking’ and 10% say they’ve missed deadlines because of the continuous interruptions.

But before you begin banning email or blocking access to Twitter, you’ll be pleased to learn that almost three-quarters of employees have already begun to adopt strategies to deal with said distractions. Just over half said they try to read emails ‘in batches’, while 28% try to work outside the office and a quarter switch off IM and stop answering their phones for a few hours a day.

Of course, that £57.8bn figure sounds slightly alarming. But we suspect it’s also a bit misleading, not least because it doesn’t account for the corresponding benefits these tools also bring, when used correctly (so the net effect may be completely different). There’s also the argument that distractions can sometimes be helpful, as long as they don’t take over completely; whether it’s chatting to colleagues by the watercooler, or checking out their friends’ latest antics on Facebook, a bit of downtime might make it easier for workers to be more productive when they do knuckle down. So although this is clearly a very real issue –  we should probably take any such figures with a pinch of salt.

Productivity tools decrease UK productivity by over £50bn a year?

 

A survey suggests that digital interruptions – social media, email, searching for stray documents etc – distract employees for ‘at least’ an hour a day. Who knew?

 

Here at MT, we’re bombarded with press releases every day extolling the virtues of one ‘collaboration tool’ or another. But there are downsides to this new way of working, according to a survey by market research firm uSamp – 57.8bn of them, to be exact. It reckons the average employee wastes at least an hour a day on email, social networks, or instant/ text messaging. Based on an average salary of £14.25 an hour (that’s somewhere between 28k and 30k, on our calculations), that adds up to £3,277.50 of wasted productivity per person per year – which for big companies with 1,000+ employees, equates to more than £3m a year. That adds up to a total cost to UK plc of £57.8bn. Ouch…

 

OK, so that £58bn figure appears to be based on some rather heroic assumptions (average salary, number of employees, that everyone employed by a company has a job which gives them access to the internet etc). But the basic premise rings true. Apparently, email accounts for almost a quarter of distractions, while 10% report getting sidetracked while they’re switching windows on their computer, and ‘personal online activities’ like Facebook account for another 9%. In fact, 45% of workers say they can only work for 15 minutes or less without being interrupted, while a quarter admit they now have ‘no time for deep or creative thinking’ and 10% say they’ve missed deadlines because of the continuous interruptions.

 

But before you begin banning email or blocking access to Twitter, you’ll be pleased to learn that almost three-quarters of employees have already begun to adopt strategies to deal with said distractions. Just over half said they try to read emails ‘in batches’, while 28% try to work outside the office and a quarter switch off IM and stop answering their phones for a few hours a day.

 

Of course, that £57.8bn figure sounds slightly alarming. But we suspect it’s also a bit misleading, not least because it doesn’t account for the corresponding benefits these tools also bring, when used correctly (so the net effect may be completely different). There’s also the argument that distractions can sometimes be helpful, as long as they don’t take over completely; whether it’s chatting to colleagues by the watercooler, or checking out their friends’ latest antics on Facebook, a bit of downtime might make it easier for workers to be more productive when they do knuckle down. So although this is clearly a very real issue –

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