Wasted work time costs $40 billion – how to spot it and put a stop to it

A third of Australia’s workforce falls below the national productivity average – costing business more than $40 billion in wasted time, according to a new survey by Ernst & Young.

The survey found that two-thirds of Australia’s workforce is “productive”, but more than 3.5 million workers are falling behind the “national productivity average” as well as wasting an average of 23% of their time at work.

Based on the average amount of time wasted at work, this group costs Australian business an estimated $41.3 billion every year in wages alone.

The second six-monthly Ernst & Young Australian Productivity Pulse found the current economic slowdown was less likely to affect productive workers, but was impacting the productivity of workers who felt insecure about their jobs.

It divided workers into “super achievers” (23% of those surveyed), “solid contributors” (48%), “patchy participants” (24%) and “lost souls” (7%).

Ernst & Young Oceania advisory leader Neil Plumridge told SmartCompany that workers, over their careers, move through the four groups depending on their job and circumstances.

Plumridge recommends measuring outputs in order to identify wasted work.

“You have to be able to measure your inputs and outputs every year so you can understand if what you are producing is faster, better and cheaper,” he says.

He says business owners and managers can address unproductive workers by making sure there is a two-way conversation going on in the business.

“Actually listen to your employees and create the environment where those sort of conversations are part of the DNA and everyday business and employees feel they can talk,” he says.

These are Ernst & Young’s tips for spotting unproductive workers:

1. They don’t take breaks

The survey findings revealed that “unproductive” workers took fewer breaks and spent more time travelling to work and less time on leisure and recreation.

“It’s quite a complex issue as highly productive workers really enjoy the work they are doing, feel a sense of control over what is going on and recognise that work-life balance and work healthy living is a key part of their responsibility,” says Plumridge.

“Unproductive workers are a slave to the job and are only doing it because it is a job.”

2. They are tied up in red tape and meetings (not social media)

“Waiting for approval from a higher authority” topped the list of time-wasting activities reported in the survey, followed by reading and responding to emails, and technology issues.

Contrary to popular belief, social media only accounted for 4% of time wasted at work or less than 20 minutes a day.

The survey found unproductive workers were more likely to spend time in unnecessary meetings than their more productive colleagues.

“Have a look at things like technology breakdowns, number of emails, number of internal and external meetings over time – that adds up to a whole lot of bureaucracy and red tape,” says Plumridge.

3. They take lots of sick leave

The survey found unproductive workers have more time off work with a third of the “patchy participants” recording between three weeks to three months sick leave per year, while one-fifth of “lost souls” took between three months to a year of sick leave.

“Sick leave is a complex topic, but if someone is not motivated and is perhaps under stress at work and looking for other employment, the data shows they take more leave than others,” says Plumridge.

“This can be from one day to year-long leave. It is tied up with absenteeism, stress and the person being in the wrong job.”

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