Today employees are wasting more time than ever during work hours. The average employee is now spending more than a full workday (8 hours) each week "cyberslacking". If you are a millennial like me, the figure pushes 10 hours(9). This might make you think people have become lazy; you may have heard as much from more seasoned employees around the water cooler. The facts suggest a more complicated scenario. Consider, for instance, that vacationing is at a 40-year low (2), or that 61% of workers end up working during that thin slice of vacation(8). Not to mention that 30% of us work weekends(3), 60% of us check work email after hours, and 1 in 5 of us treat those emails the same way we do when we are in the office(4). Only 1 in 5 of us takes lunch away from our desk, and the lunch "hour" has shrunk to less than 30 minutes(6). About 80% of millennials agree that "work is a significant source of stress", while less than half of baby boomers agree(1). Especially for younger workers, it has become hard to balance work and life and how intermingled they have become.
So what's causing this? I believe the answer is the multitasking encouraged by our online lives. Multitasking is more likely in situations where the next task is close by(5). The many-tabbed browser or the app-filled smartphone are both examples of technology-facilitated multitasking. The effort needed to switch over to a distraction is negligible. The problem with multitasking is two-fold. a) Many studies have demonstrated that the vast majority of us simply cannot multitask. We just switch back and forth between two tasks. b) There is a cost to switching(7). If I asked you what you ate for dinner last Tuesday, you would probably answer it by first thinking about what you normally do on Tuesdays or where you were last Tuesday or who you were with. Your brain builds up an image of what last Tuesday must have been like and once enough information is present, you pluck out the information you were searching for. If you switch tasks often, you are forcing your brain to reload all that information for each task you switch to every time you switch. Younger workers who have more cognitive control, said to peak in your mid-twenties(5), should be dominating the workplace. However, when you consider that they switch tasks nearly twice as many times per hour than older workers, it becomes clear that not only is working on the right task important but so is the attention you give to the task.
2015 Stress in America Snapshot. (2017). http://www.apa.org. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/snapshot.aspx
(2017). Projecttimeoff.com. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from https://www.projecttimeoff.com/sites/default/files/PTO_SoAV%20Report_FINAL.pdf
A Depressing Percentage of Americans Work Nights and Weekends. (2017). Slate Magazine. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/09/11/u_s_work_life_balance_americans_are_more_likely_to_work_nights_and_weekends.html
Brooks, C. (2017). Checking Email After Work Won't Make You Miserable. Business News Daily. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7754-email-after-hours.html
Gazzaley, A. & Rosen, L. (2016). The distracted mind : ancient brains in a high-tech world. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Hills, S. (2013). Whatever happened to the lunch hour? How breaks have been reduced to just 29 minutes because we're too busy. Mail Online. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2268092/Whatever-happened-lunch-hour-How-breaks-reduced-just-29-minutes-busy.html
Multitasking: Switching costs. (2017). http://www.apa.org. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx
Team, G. (2014). Average U.S. Employee Only Takes Half of Earned Vacation Time; Glassdoor Employment Confidence Survey (Q1 2014) - Glassdoor Blog. Glassdoor Blog. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/average-employee-takes-earned-vacation-time-glassdoor-employment-confidence-survey-q1-2014/
WORKING HARD OR HARDLY WORKING? Employees Waste More Than One Day a Week on Non-Work Activities. (2017). Prnewswire.com. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/working-hard-or-hardly-working-employees-waste-more-than-one-day-a-week-on-non-work-activities-300490524.html