March Madness - Part 2

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. estimate that close to a billion dollars will be lost as productivity in the workplace dips during March Madness. (By the way--I'm not going to get in trouble for saying that, am I? It's not like saying "Super Blah Sunday," is it?)



It's all "madness," really. What I want to know is where all the hoopla is the rest of the year when employees are wasting time on other non-work related activities? If you've ever worked in a cubicle, you probably already know what I'm talking about. I know that coworkers I had over the years wasted time on more than just betting on basketball.

What you probably haven't heard are the statistics that point to how much time employees spend on the clock outside smoking. Let's be real, my smoking friend--you can't even pretend to be "on the job" if you're standing the mandatory twenty feet away from the entrance to your place of employment with a smoldering butt hanging from your lips. The guy who fell asleep at his desk looks busier than someone outside smoking.

According to research done by a Lansing, Michigan firm, the average smoker spends (or spent in 2000) about 39 minutes a day smoking at work. The numbers that EPIC/MRA worked up showed that, assuming an average wage of $13 per hour, Michigan employers lost $1.7 billion on employee smoking breaks. That's about twice the amount that will be lost nationwide due to March Madness. If Michigan accounts for roughly 3.5% of the money made nationally by individuals (a very rough estimate based on 1999 tax filings), then in 2000 companies across America paid about $47 billion for employee smoking breaks. That makes the money lost over March Madness seem like chump change.

Of course, this is all based on statistics and analysis that may not be entirely accurate. And more than the numbers could be off, too. Nicotine suppresses appetite, so it seems possible that smokers might not be breaking as much for lunch. Does that recoup for any of the time lost? I don't know--it's something to think about.

There are other less noticeable ways to skip out on work that you should be doing. Greg Kinnear, playing eccentric columnist Frank Navasky, says in You've Got Mail, "Listen to this -- the entire work force of the state of Virginia had to have solitaire removed from their computers because they hadn't done any work in six weeks." I guess that was before they had games like Diablo, Quake, and Power Pete, because I could never waste six weeks on solitaire, no matter how many burning monkeys there were. Later in the movie, Tom Hank's character, Joe Fox, discusses with his love interest another great detractor from productivity in the workplace.

Joe Fox: "'You've Got Mail'... Very powerful words."

Kathleen Kelly: "Yes!"

She probably should have pleaded, "Yes! Help me! I'm addicted to checking my inbox every half hour for your emails!"

How did this wonderful creation, the computer, end up being a figurative ball and chain that weighs us down, keeping us from reaching the heights of true productivity? The situation seems almost as dire as an old black and white horror show where robots (that's technology--like computers) have turned against their masters (uh, that's us), enslaving them and subjecting them to menial labor (that's checking your inbox for messages every few minutes).

Personal email, sports scores, instant messaging, jokes, flash games, online gambling, fantasy sports--these are just a few of the less scandalous activities upon which people frivolously fritter away their work day. For all you old schoolers, there are the traditional black holes into which fall those precious moments of productivity--personal phone calls, hanging out at the water cooler, walking around with a chart in you hand, and meetings. Yeah, don't try to tell me that meetings are productive--they usually aren't.

Let me get back to my point--where is the media when you really need them? Why can't focus be brought to bear on the real issues affecting the demise of the productive workday? I think Matt Lauer missed out on the real story while he was filling out his bracket.

Posted by Jeremiah on March 16, 2007 at 6:35

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