We all do it. You need to get started on that tricky employee review, make that difficult phone call or kick off the annual budget, but first, let’s check Yahoo! Finance, get coffee, or accept that invitation to this or that networking event. If you’re any good, you might even postpone that awkward task until tomorrow. Procrastination is a fact of life.
So it was with some wry amusement I read a recent article handwringing over employee use of Facebook. Surprise, surprise! People are goofing off work quite a bit with Facebook. But is this really news? Similar articles were written five years ago, fingering chat as the villain of the modern workplace. And ten years before that, the Web itself was the culprit. Delving even deeper into the past, time-and-motion consultants used to worry about time spent on private phone calls, and before that it was probably the water cooler.
So it strikes me as a bit unfair to pin all the blame on Facebook. The reality is that people will take time out from their work for all sorts of reasons, both good and bad. Psychologists even have a term for it: Displacement Activity. As times change, the forms of this activity may change, but the substance hasn’t. Had there really been a change in the trend lines, it would show up in these statistics in a drop of productivity. That is certainly not the case according to these US figures .
One thing that has changed is deeper merging of personal and work activity. Whether triggered by dispersion in the workplace or an always-on work ethic, employees generally feel free to book movie tickets during work hours, but after the movie is over, those same employees will often log on to their company servers to check their email from home at 10pm in the evening. In this new normal, the line between work and play isn’t as clearly defined as it once was and there are pros and cons to that for both parties.
However if you’re concerned about the amount of displacement activity in the face of so many temptations, a good place to start is to provide better tools to make the difficult tasks not quite so daunting , something I can almost guarantee will involve more collaboration and more direct access to their peers, friends, and colleagues.