Why Goof Offs Get Ahead At Work

web surfing productivePeople spend vast amounts of time on the Internet. They watch the latest cat videos, check Facebook, etc. It's not exactly productive, per se. But I want to make the case that the things you think are big time sucks -- like reading the Fail blog -- are not the real causes of wasted time at work.

A few years ago, I interviewed Ben Huh, the CEO of the Cheezburger network, which has brought us such internet memes as the LOLcats. He started our meeting by telling me that a major consulting company had recently blocked access to the Fail blog for its employees. While admitting that this was a self-serving line, he claimed that "a little bit of goofing off at work helps productivity."
I do think he's onto something. In the past, a far higher proportion of people took cigarette breaks -- 10 minutes outside lighting up. It's like a mini-vacation. Now, since very few of us smoke, we take our cigarette breaks by looking at pictures of signs poorly translated into English. There are downsides -- you haven't really left your desk -- but upsides too: less risk of cancer.

The larger point, though, is that looking at funny pictures makes you laugh, and only takes a few minutes. The Cheezburger network's mission statement is to make the world happy for five minutes a day, and that five-minute figure is based on research into how long the average user spends at one of the network sites.

Five minutes is pretty much nothing. You want to know what really wastes time at work? A two-hour meeting that 10 people attended, that really only had to take one hour, and that was only pertinent to four of the attendees. A better suggestion to companies looking at blocking seemingly time-wasting websites would be to first remove the log in their own corporate policy eyes before picking out a speck on the internet.

What websites do you check when you have a five-minute break?


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Nonnie

My biggest complaint as a manager was those people who spend their day seemingly going from one desk to another engaging other employees in meaningless conversation. It's her sister-in-law's upcoming baby shower, or his weekend escapades. These people manage to accomplish having not one but two non-productive employees! And it's difficult to manage or discipline an employee who feels he or she is just being friendly. Following a coaching session one is likely to overhear: "Oh, I can't talk to you anymore ... Ms. W told me not to."

July 04 2012 at 12:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
T REXX

non productive emp..are weeded out by the fellow emp today..the pie is a lot smaller

May 07 2012 at 6:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brandi

notalwaysright.com = awesome. I visit the site daily to be amused by the insanity of customers, it helps to keep me from going insane as well.

I also read a couple of online comics which are updated every other day or so. A single four panel comic takes less than a minute to read, and the three I am reading currently definitely help to brighten my day.

May 07 2012 at 3:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
canyouhearthemx

The article wasn't really about goof-offs getting ahead, was it? Seems to me it was a bit of publicity for Cheezburger co.; although the Ben Huh guy made a good point about a bit of goofing around being better for productivity. Goofing off, joking around, or whatever tends to draw the ire of supervisors/managers as "idleness" is actually the opposite-- a sign of an active mind, which is NOT all that common in the workplace. An active mind is worth twice as much as ten office drones, and rarely appreciated. Active minds can see institutional stupidity, the real cause of inefficiency or poor productivity.

We seem to labor under the delusion that the only path to productivity is a constant, ceaseless, intense, unwavering focus on whatever task at hand, to the exclusion of anything beyond that, for many hours over a sustained period of days. That's fine for robots welding auto-frames, but it's not humanly possible. I don't even think it's healthy human behavior. (I expect some readers to think I'm excusing the "weakness" of incompetence. I'm not; I'm re-considering certain assumptions about competency itself.) Once upon a time, we designed technology to perform certain singular tasks repetitively, and we expected human beings operate mindless machines like mindless machines. Now we expect people to perform tasks that require consideration & judgement... like mindless machines.

Attention spans are finite. We understand that with children, but don't tolerate that with adults. There's an old saying: "If you're not too busy, than you're not working hard enough." It's silly when we think about it, but we're too busy to think about it, and it creeps into our mindset. Counter-intuitive as it may be, sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to think about something else (or nothing at all). We equate prolific output with prodigious output, despite the two often being diverging ideas. I couldn't help but laugh when Laura Vanderkam mentioned the insufferable time-wasting that goes on in weekly (for some, daily!) marathon meetings which don't even concern most of those forced to attend. It's odd how we're punished for wasting our own time, but others are free to waste ours with no repercussions.

Companies demand more, more, more, and want it now, now, now... And somehow, we don't ask whether they have the right to make such demands, where the limits lie, whether we're justly compensated, or what responsibility they have to us. History is not kind to Medieval, brutal landlords who demanded their serfs toil in harsh conditions, serious deprivations & rewarded with short lifespans. History won't be kind to lavishly-compensated, autocratic CEO's who demand their employees toil in stressful, artificially high-pressure environments & rewarded with worthless retirement plans.

If you bothered to read the whole damn thing, I'd like to know your thoughts on the matter.

May 07 2012 at 3:13 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
tony

Try doing a reel job, like actually doing something, making something. No 1 likes pencil pushing, sit on your a hole do nothings.

May 07 2012 at 3:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
canyouhearthemx

The article wasn't really about goof-offs getting ahead, was it? Seems to me it was a bit of publicity for Cheezburger co.; although the Ben Huh guy made a good point about a bit of goofing around is better for productivity. Goofing off, joking around, or whatever tends to draw the ire of supervisors/managers as "idleness" is actually the opposite-- a sign of an active mind, which is NOT all that common in the workplace.

We seem to labor under the delusion that the only path to productivity is a constant, ceaseless, intense, unwavering focus on whatever task at hand, to the exclusion of anything beyond that, for many hours over a sustained period of days. That's fine for robots welding auto-frames, but it's not humanly possible. I don't even think it's healthy human behavior. (I expect some readers to think I'm excusing the "weakness" of incompetence. I'm not; I'm re-considering certain assumptions about competency itself.) Once upon a time, we designed technology to perform certain singular tasks repetitively, and we expected human beings operate mindless machines like mindless machines. Now we expect people to perform tasks that require consideration & judgement... like mindless machines.

Attention spans are finite. We understand that with children, but don't tolerate that with adults. "If you're not too busy, than you're not working hard enough." It's silly when we think about it, but we're too busy to think about it, and it creeps into our mindset. Counter-intuitive as it may be, sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to think about something else (or nothing at all). We equate prolific output with prodigious output, despite the two often being diverging ideas. I couldn't help but laugh when Laura Vanderkam mentioned the insufferable time-wasting that goes on in weekly (for some, daily!) marathon meetings which don't even concern most of those forced to attend. It's odd how we're punished for wasting our own time, but others are free to waste ours with no repercussions.

Companies demand more, more, more, and want it now, now, now... And somehow, we don't ask whether they have the right to make such demands, where the limits lie, whether we're justly compensated, or what responsibility they have to us. History is not kind to Medieval landlords who demanded the serfs toil in harsh conditions, serious deprivations & rewarded with short lifespans. History won't be kind to lavishly-compensated, autocratic CEO's who demand their employees toil in stressful, artificially high-pressure environments & rewarded with worthless retirement plans.

If you bothered to read the whole damn thing, I'd like to know your thoughts.

May 07 2012 at 3:02 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
IN MY OPINION ONLY

Very annoying. Pass a new LAW to jail those types.

May 07 2012 at 2:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
genowhitaker

If you have been working without a raise in 5 or more years, and seen your benefits cut and cut and cut, it is only natural to cut a few corners at work. The idea that 5 minutes here or there is going to break the company or conversely grimly grinding out a few more e-mails or being at your desk when your boss's boss e-mails you after your normal end of shift date is going to give you continuing employment is nonsense. As a worker, you have very little control over the decision making that will affect your employment and the survival of your company. Yes, do your own job well, but playing the martyr as Dougie or Debbie Downer in your company is hardly the road to success for yourself or your company.

May 06 2012 at 11:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
diabalos76

The Cheezburger network will have you lol'n yourself out of a job

May 06 2012 at 9:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
CRos595301

First of all, my company blocked websites like Facebook. And who has the time to goof off. I have a different work ethic....I come to work to get paid and my paycheck comes from what I do....Take it or leave it....

May 06 2012 at 9:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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