Here we go again

Posted on September 22, 2004 8:25 am by | Business

No business leader wants to hear that it’s losing money because worker productivity is dropping. When they read a statement from a respected organization that suggests one specific Internet activity could be costing US businesses $36.7 million a day, they tend to sit up and take notice.

That’s the figure released by executive recruiting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The culprit: fantasy football.

Yup, you heard right. The amount of time employees spend playing fantasy football is costing business nearly $40 million a day in productivity. And some think Challenger’s estimate of 14 million people spending 10 minutes of work time a day is low. The calculation: Mutiply 14 million by $2.62 (the average amount a US workers is paid for 10 minutes of work).

If you’re talking about people in the factory who are expected to crank out x number of widgets in y hours, this could be a problem. These workers, however, rarely have access to the Internet on the job. The use of the Net occurs in the office. And that’s where the problem with these mindless multiplication estimates begins. It assumes first that every worker puts in eight hours, no more and no less. Ten minutes spent on fantasy football (or online shopping or random surfing) is 10 minutes lost. Second, it presumes that those 10 minutes mean a worker won’t produce quality work on time.

Neither assumption is necessarily true. I recall seeing one study a year or so ago that revealed most employees spend more time doing work online at home than they spend doing non-work-related surfing online at work. Access to the Net has generally improved productivity through faster access to information that lets workers cut the amount of time it takes to do their jobs. And how many knowledge workers do you know who show up precisely at 8 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. on the dot and never take work home?

These multiplication estimates keep coming out—usually from the company Websense that sells blocking and monitoring software—claiming productivity losses in the millions and billions. Yet I don’t see any studies confirming the lost productivity based on measures that matter—like reduced quality of work, late work and increased product development cycles.

Even CEO John Challenger himself concedes that “For some companies, that amount of lost productivity is a good expenditure of the company’s money, because it makes for better morale and more productive workers.” A San Francisco Chronicle article examining the issue quotes a product manager for a manufacturing company who says he spends a half hour each day playing fantasy football at work, but he also stays long after closing time. The article also quotes an HR consultant who notes that employees “Often come in late, work late, work from home. There’s a very high tolerance for that kind of stuff. No one cares as long as the programming gets done.”

And yet executives, facing shareholder pressure to eek out profits in a low-margin world, will undoubtedly look at this study and consider restricting Net access. General Motors has already done it, blocking access to fantasy football sites. We live in a knee-jerk world. That makes these meaningless multiplication numbers dangerous.

12/22/04 | 1 Comment | Here we go again



  • 1.Couldn't agree more. Invented numbers to install a marketing plan. Challenger should be embarrassed to even try guessing this without some kind of real usage survey.

    PSoTD | October 2004

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