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Employees Behaving Badly: UK Study Uncovers Office Habits

by Joseph Hill

June 23 2015 - Surfing social media, printing CVs out at work and browsing the net are just some of the things that UK employees get up to during work hours, according to a study. Whilst this might seem like procrastination and revenue loss for some businesses, is it a necessary evil?

Unofficial Paid Breaks

The study which was undertaken by Viking found that during a normal working day the average employee, depending on their day to day habits, will spend:

  • 10.5 minutes making cups of tea
  • 14.5 minutes going to the toilet
  • 90 minutes communicating through social media, emails and texts
  • 60 minutes browsing the net
  • 45 minutes on a smoke break

Whilst this does seem excessive at first glance, it seems that some experts argue these activities need to exist in order for the workforce to be produce the best quality work. One of these is psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who has researched this theory in depth. His study at the University of Illinois found that the brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if it remains constant over time:

"From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that when faced with long tasks it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!"

As evidence around this theory has progressed, methods of maximising work efficacy have sprung up, such as the Pomodoro Cycle, The 52-17 Method and the 90 Minute Work Block. These methods take into consideration a brief break so that when in work mode, people are working at their best.

Office Equipment Misuse

The study also suggested that printing personal documents at work could be hitting businesses in the pocket, with the average employee printing non-work items more than once every week. But despite this financial drain, it’s not how often employees print that raises the most concern, but what they are printing.

Shockingly, 1 in 4 employees admitted to printing off CVs in order to apply for roles at different companies, with 20% admitting to printing off job applications as well. Taking it even further, 13% also take the bold step of printing off further interview tasks once they are being considered for the role. Other documents amongst the rouge list of pintables were:

  • Plane tickets (27%)
  • Personal receipts (18%)
  • Documents for family members (22%)
  • Rail tickets (21%)
  • Bank statements (17%)
  • Personal photos (15%)

To help combat the cost to businesses, Viking has launched the Honesty Box, which office managers can download for free here, and place next to the printer for employees to contribute to if they wish to print off personal documents.

The Cost to Businesses

Whilst the financial burden of misusing office equipment has to be worked out on a case-by-case basis, the cost of unofficial breaks can be unveiled. According to figures released in 2014 from the Office for National Statistics, the average salary in Britain is £26,500. Taking this into consideration we’re able to calculate on average how much money UK businesses pay their employees to take breaks per year, and the results are quite eye opening.

The average employee, according to the new data, will earn the following throughout the year:

  • £4,713.44 communicating on social media
  • £3,142.29 browsing unrelated websites online
  • £2,356.72 on smoke breaks, if they partake
  • £759.39 on toilet breaks
  • £549.90 making cups of tea

This means that 43.4% of the modern day salary in the UK pays for employees to be in the office, but not actually working. Some may call this lazy and some believe it comes with the territory; but is this figure getting too high? Although we need to make a conscious effort to incorporate regular breaks into the normal working day, surely it can be done more efficiently.



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