How to identify & reduce wasted time and inefficiency in the workplace?

by Marija Petrushevska
Strategies to reduce work inefficiency

For any business, time is money. 

Yet, statistics show that only 60% of work time is spent productively.  

Like it or not, people get distracted at work and don’t use their time efficiently. In fact, two-thirds of employees admit they waste time at work every day. 

If your employees waste time and are inefficient in their work, that can cut deeply into your profits. 

However, there are always ways to pull the plug on time wasters and encourage your employees to be more productive. 

This article will explain what inefficiency at work is and its consequences.  

Once we lay the groundwork, we will identify time wasters in the workplace and provide strategies to reduce work inefficiency and boost productivity

What is inefficiency at work?   

Some waste of time at work is inevitable.  

Employees must take breaks, eat lunch, attend to clients, or simply reboot. Yet, there are often cases when workers are hamstrung because of reasons out of their control, such as: 

  • Uncoordinated responsibilities
  • Deficit of resources 
  • Insufficient reporting 
  • Poor delegation of tasks 
  • Lack of information 
  • Equipment issues 
  • Unclear communication 
  • Ineffective or lengthy meetings 
  • Mistakes by others. 

According to Asana’s research, employees spend 60% of their time on “work about work” – communicating tasks, searching for files, drafting documents, or preparing meetings. As a result, only 27% of their time is spent on jobs they were hired to do. 

However, sometimes employees intentionally “steal” time from the companies, which is known as wasted time. In these instances, instead of focusing on high-priority work, employees: 

  • Work on less important tasks 
  • Answer trivial emails 
  • Attend unnecessary meetings 
  • Work at a slow pace 
  • Have water cooler chats 
  • Do irrelevant research 
  • Take personal calls. 

Common causes of inefficiency in the workplace   

Inefficiency in the workplace is somewhat inevitable. Although there are many reasons why people are not putting forward their best efforts, some are more common than others. 

1. A mismatch between the employee, their position, and the organization 

If an employee feels their position doesn’t suit them, chances are they won’t immerse themselves in the work the role requires. That is why hiring managers must be extra careful when making hiring decisions. 

However, you can also amend such situations. Constantly communicate with your workers about how they feel about their jobs and whether they need a position transition. 

2. Lack of feedback 

Feedback is something that managers often disregard, but that can have a significant impact on employee performance, especially when it’s positive. In fact, Gallup’s survey found that 50.5% of employees feel more engaged after receiving positive feedback. 

Yet, according to data from Officevibe’s Pulse Survey software, 28% of employees say they don’t receive continuous feedback to help them improve. 

Hence, always try to acknowledge and reward employees for their hard work. And even when constructive criticism is required, don’t hesitate to provide your workers with guidelines on how they become better at their jobs.  

3. Shortfalls in communication 

Undoubtedly, effective communication helps build the foundations for success. If a company’s goals and objectives are clearly communicated, and workers understand their roles and responsibilities in achieving them, then positive outcomes are guaranteed. 

Yet, Mitel’s Workplace Productivity and Communications Technology Report found that almost 15% of employees’ work time is wasted because of inefficient communication. 

4. Poor time management 

A meta-analysis by Aeon B, Faber A, and Panaccio A. titled “Does time management work?” revealed a positive correlation between good time management and increased job performance. It also discovered that employees with sublime time management skills are more likely to receive positive performance reviews. 

As a manager, it is your responsibility to assign and prioritize tasks in a way that supports your workers in allocating their time efficiently to achieve their goals. 

5.Need for role clarity 

Very often, employees aren’t clear on what their responsibilities are. In fact, Effectory’s research found that 50% of workers need additional classifications about their role in the workplace. 

The same research shows that role clarity is essential because the 53% of employees who are clear on their roles report 86% higher levels of effectiveness and 83% of productivity, resulting in a 25% boost in performance. 

The consequences of inefficiency at work  

Inefficiency at work can affect different segments of an organization. 

One of the most significant issues with inefficiency is that it can become a vicious, never-ending cycle. 32% of workers claim they waste time due to a lack of motivation to work harder, whereas 30% are simply unsatisfied with their jobs. 

Workplace demotivation and discontent result in ineffectiveness yielding low productivity and swerving back into demotivation.  

Consequently, a company’s shortfalls become more common, damaging employees’ morale. Damaged morale breaks trust between employees and management, looping back to the vicious circle of inefficiency. 

However, a lack of effectiveness doesn’t harm only employees but the business as well. It wastes time since employees aren’t engaged in their work, and disconnected employees don’t work with the same quality as fulfilled ones. 

Inevitably, it costs the company money in time, resources, and energy to arrive at a quality outcome. 

How to measure efficiency?   

Before we dive into measuring employee efficiency, we need to differentiate between productivity and efficiency. 

Simply put, productivity refers to the number of tasks an employee can do in a specific time. On the other hand, efficiency focuses on the quality of work. 

Even though they are contrasting, productivity and efficiency are interconnected, and in an ideal situation, an employee can achieve a delicate balance between the two. 

Generally, there are two types of efficiency: 

  • Static efficiency refers to modifying existing products, services, or resources. For instance, if a company has no budget for new hires, it could re-organize tasks among the current workforce to achieve greater efficiency. 
  • Dynamic efficiency refers to improving and developing new products, services, and processes by acquiring external resources. 

Measuring employee efficiency provides insight into your employee’s strong and weak points. It allows you to identify how your worker’s actions affect the organization’s performance and what you need to change to boost the performance. 

However, remember that sometimes employees don’t achieve 100% because of reasons out of their control. Additionally, keep in mind that you cannot measure all positions’ efficiency in the same manner. 

But certain considerations can help you reasonably measure employee efficiency for all roles. 

1. Establish standards 

Establishing standards might be the most challenging, but it is the most crucial element of measuring efficiency. You must create separate norms for every position and project, ensuring reasonable expectations for all concerned workers.  

To set the baseline, you must plan which metrics to track and measure. Some examples include: 

  • Workers’ working hours vs. the hours needed to complete a task of the project 
  • The number of necessary adjustments before completing a project 
  • Employees’ absenteeism rates 

2. Track worker’s time 

The easiest way to track employees’ time is by using time-tracking software. The metrics such software provides typically include: 

  • Clock in and out times 
  • Time spent on non-work-related activities 
  • Percentage of tasks completed in a working day 
  • Overtime hours 
  • Time spent on assigned tasks and projects 

3. Track work’s quality 

There is no single formula to help you precisely measure the quality of work, but some indicators can provide insight into the work’s quality levels: 

  • Whether products pass or fail QA inspections 
  • The number of complaints against a worker 
  • Employee engagement and satisfaction rates 
  • The realized projects’ value 

How to Identify Time Wasters in the Workplace? 

Identifying time wasters in the workplace is the first and most crucial step toward rooting them out.  

They fall into two categories – internal and external time-wasters – with the main difference being that employees initiate and can control internal time wasters. In contrast, they are not to blame for external time wasters. 

Internal time wasters   

The staffing firm OfficeTeam surveyed more than 600 workers and managers to see how much time people fritter away on non-work activities. Their findings show that people engage in the following internal time wasters: 

  • Spending time on their phones (50% men and 52% women) 
  • Browsing social media and chatting (24% men and 33% women) 
  • Checking personal emails (32% men and 27% women) 
  • Playing mobile games (5% men and 7% women) 
  • Attending personal tasks (45% men and 28% women) 

External time wasters 

Atlassian research found that the three main external culprits that use up employees’ time are: 

  • Emails. Employees check their inboxes 36 times an hour to respond to the 304 emails they receive weekly. Consequently, each year, companies lose $1250 per employee because of spam, $1800 due to unnecessary emails, and $2100-$4100 on account of poorly written correspondence. 
  • Meetings. Each employee attends approximately 62 meetings monthly, yet half of the meetings or 31 hours spent on them is time wasted. In fact, on average, 96% of employees miss meetings, and 39% sleep during them, causing US businesses to lose $37 billion in salary costs due to unnecessary meetings. 
  • Interruptions. On average, a worker must deal with 56 interruptions daily and needs two hours to recover from them. As much as 80% of interruptions at work are considered trivial. 

What are the biggest time wasters?   

As surprising as it may sound, even though people are often distracted by scrolling through social media or chatting with colleagues, the most significant time wasters are the external ones.  

1. Unnecessary meetings 

According to HBR’s survey, 65% of senior managers report that meetings keep them from focusing on their tasks, and 71% find them unproductive and inefficient. 

So why do meetings end up being useless? The main reason is that instead of focusing on the conversations at hand, many people multitask during the sessions. In fact, Flex’s survey revealed that as much as 92% of employees confess to multitasking, with 41% doing that often or all the time.  

Most often, people check their emails (69%), work on other projects (49%), or eat (44%). 

2. Inefficient multitasking 

It is not only during meetings – employees multitask throughout the whole work day. They often have many tasks at hand, so to tackle them all, they try to work on them simultaneously. In fact, according to a Vital Smarts study, 60% of people have more than 60 personal and work tasks during one week. 

However, a study by Watson, J.M. and Strayer, D.L., Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability” shows that only 2.5% of people can multitask efficiently.  

Additionally, a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology indicates that multitasking is, in fact, less efficient and wastes additional time. 

3. Email overload 

Emails have become the number one communication tool for work purposes. However, sometimes they can cause an overload for an employee. 

Radicati’s research found that, on average, employees receive 126 and send 30 emails per day.  

Therefore, it is no surprise that checking on emails takes up 28% of a worker’s time during a working day, as a McKinsey analysis shows.  

However, an analysis by Atos Origin of the emails their employees sent and received revealed some surprising findings. Out of 95,000 sent emails during one week, 75,000 were internal, and out of 127,000 received ones, 68% were from colleagues.  

As a result, on average, their employees waste 40% of their time on internal emails that add no significant value to the organization. 

Wasting time in the workplace facts & case studies 

Now that we’ve identified what qualifies as a time-waster, let’s talk about how and why employees waste time and the cost of inefficiency. 

How do employees waste time?  

An Analysis of Time Wasting Activities of Graduates in Their First Years of Employment by Lucia Kohnová and Nikola Salajová found that the major time-wasters for people in their first year of employment compared to those who’ve been working for a while are different.  

While phone calls, inability to say no, and multi-tasking intertwine for both groups, younger people slack off because of the internet and procrastination, whereas most of the experienced employees’ time is consumed by poor communication, unclear information, and drop-in visitors. 

Additionally, Derrick C. Darden’s research identified three time-wasting activities.  

Firstly, people get absorbed and distracted by the wrong things instead of their work tasks.  

Secondly, managers and supervisors misspend time on unnecessary meetings where the information could have been emailed or directly delivered to the employees concerned.  

Lastly, both employees and managers often engage in frivolous activities, such as gossiping with co-workers or using their phones. 

Why do employees waste time?  

According to Salary’s Wasting Time at Work Survey, the number one reason employees waste time is that 53% of them believe short breaks make them more productive. Meanwhile, 20% are bored and not interested in their work.  

Workers also reported work dissatisfaction (7%), low salaries (2%), and lack of motivation (8%) as reasons for lounging about. 

The Cost of Inefficiency 

As reported in the study Technology and Organizational Change: Harnessing the Power of Digital Workplace, the most cost-consuming time wasters are: 

  • Wasted meetings ($9,000 annual cost per employee) 
  • Managing emails ($8,000 annual cost per employee) 
  • People & information search ($7,000 annual cost per employee) 
  • Duplicate work ($5,000 annual cost per employee) 

In addition, an IDC study shows that data professionals’ lost time knocks back companies by $1.7 million for every 100 employees or $103 million annually for US organizations. 

Moreover, Udemy’s Workplace Distraction Report reveals that due to workplace distractions, 54% of employees report they aren’t performing as they should, 50% state they are less productive, and 20% aren’t able to reach their full potential in their careers. 

How to fix inefficiency at work?  

So, how can you break out of the inefficiency cycle and maximize performance and productivity?  

1. Implement time tracking software   

It’s hard to determine how to be more productive if your employees don’t know which activities eat up most of their time. Time tracking software, such as Time Doctor, can be handy for this issue. It allows employees to see which activities are most time-consuming so they can reshuffle and prioritize their tasks. 

However, keep in mind that even though 79% of employees approve of managers monitoring their work-related tasks, 57% say they aren’t comfortable with them tracking their physical movement in the workplace. 

Therefore, it is crucial to consider how you will implement the time-tracking software to achieve optimal performance. 

2. Utilizing the power of project management software   

Many workers’ time is depleted due to ineffective delegation and incoordination of tasks. 

Project management software increases visibility and ensures that everyone on your team knows their tasks and the corresponding deadlines. Additionally, it tracks a project’s progress and ensures alignment with goals to obtain ideal performance. 

In fact, 77% of managers argue that efficient projects are successful because of performance management software.  

3. Improve team communication & avoid unnecessary meetings  

The average professional spends almost half their 40-hour work week on meetings, whereas a busy professional spends 32.9 hours. 

US professionals claim that 8% of their week is wasted on unproductive meetings, and 62% report that such meetings interrupt their regular workflow. 

44% of employees state that poorly organized meetings leave them with insufficient time to complete their work. 

A lack of feedback is a prevalent issue causing unproductive meetings. In fact, 64% of employees report that their organization never or rarely collects feedback about their meetings. 

All these statistics clearly show that to fix inefficiency and wasted time, you must improve communication with your team and avoid meetings that can simply be an email. 

4. Boost employee engagement   

The Global Human Capital Trends survey found that 79% of organizations believe a sense of belonging is crucial to their success, whereas 93% claim it drives employees’ performance. In addition, Gallup’s research found that employee engagement boosts profitability by 22% and productivity by 21%.  

Moreover, 69% of workers say being better recognized motivates them to work harder.  

Yet, according to Gallup’s research, currently, 32% of the workforce is engaged, while 17% are actively disengaged. 

Hence, if you take steps like putting everyone in the proper role, providing them with training, giving them meaningful work, and checking in with your workers, you can increase engagement, thus decreasing inefficiency. 

5. Enhance the workplace conditions  

Even though it may sound unconventional, workplace conditions can significantly impact an employee’s productivity and efficiency.  

For instance, a study by Future Workplace titled “The Employee Experience” found that access to natural light improves employees’ work performance by 70%. 

Moreover, the Workplace Acoustics Study by Interface, Inc. revealed that noise is another major distractor in the workplace. According to its findings, 69% of workers feel that noisy offices negatively affect their productivity and performance. 

A study titled “An Overview of the Influence of Physical Office Environments Towards Employees” found that almost all office conditions, including temperature, air quality, lightning, and noise, can affect productivity and effectiveness. 

Therefore, to fix inefficiency, you must also optimize the workplace conditions to accommodate workers’ needs and create an environment that supports efficiency. 

6. Match tasks to employee skills & improve communication 

Research by CIPD found that almost half of workers believe they are mismatched in their positions. Out of those, 37% feel they are over-skilled, whereas 12% feel under-skilled. 

Nevertheless, matching the tasks to your employees’ skills is vitally important. In fact, according to a joint OECD-ILO report, matching employees’ skills to tasks boosts their productivity, improves job satisfaction, and builds better relationships between them and their employers. 

Yet, skill matching is not the only factor that impacts efficiency. Poor or inefficient communication about tasks also hinders employees’ performance. According to Gallup, only about half of workers understand their work tasks completely. 

With 97% of employees reporting that communications impact their daily tasks, based on RingCentral’s survey, it is evident that you must strive toward clear communication about what is expected of your team and support them in achieving their goals and objectives. 

Conclusion 

Inefficiency and wasted time at work are inevitable but not unfixable. 

Recognizing time wasters can help you resolve inefficiency at work and enjoy the advantages of a better workflow and boosted morale.  

As a result, your employees will be more satisfied with their jobs and more motivated to give their best shot at work.

 
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