What To Do When An Employee Wastes Too Much Time

What to Do When An Employee Wastes Too Much Time

Kathy Simpson

Your employees may show up to work every day, but do they put in a full day’s work? Chances are, they don’t.

Nearly 90% of employees say they waste time on the job every day. For most, it’s an hour or less, but more than one-fourth of employees admit to wasting two or more hours in the course of a workday. They may be checking their phones, surfing the Internet, socializing online or with coworkers, taking longer-than-usual breaks or just goofing off.

Are Restrictive Controls the Answer?

Concerned managers add up those wasted minutes and consider the cost to their business. They may give the wayward employee something — anything — to do, put restrictive controls in place to monitor Internet usage and block websites, or require employees to track their time. But small business expert Gene Marks recommends a different approach.

“Give your employees specific deliverables, so your business runs the way you want it to; and leave it up to them to do what they have to do,” he says. “If people are showing up and getting their jobs done, it’s not a problem. If they aren’t, that’s a whole other discussion.”

A hands-off approach is especially vital for the growing millennial workforce, Marks says. These younger workers often want and expect more independence and mobility, and they thrive on it. Micromanaging anyone is likely to backfire, but millennials in particular will quickly find it a good reason to move on.

A better solution is to lay the groundwork for a self-motivated team that gets the job done without your constant heedfulness. These tips can help.

Set Clear Goals and Expectations

employee wasting time

Setting goals with clear expectations provides direction, motivation and a clear way to measure progress—for your business and your employees. Doing so improves teamwork and helps everyone understand the part they play in the total effort.

Be sure your employees clearly understand their job responsibilities and how you expect them to fulfill those responsibilities. Make a practice of meeting individually with each employee to establish goals that are realistic, measurable and timely, and periodically review their progress toward achieving those goals. Both you and your employee can track whether expectations have been met.

Know Your Employees

Employees who are wasting time at work are often bored, lack the incentive to work harder or are dissatisfied with their jobs. When you make a point of getting to know your employees and relating to them on a daily basis, you’ll be aware of these signs before they take a major toll on productivity, putting you in a better position to respond in a proactive way.

“Always be out there with your employees, checking things out with them, advising and counseling them,” says Marks. “Engage with them all the time.”

Provide immediate feedback for a job well done and offer course corrections when necessary. Be available whenever employees want to meet with you. Help them meet their goals while also encouraging their autonomy. If they’re seeking more responsibility, offer new assignments that challenge their initiative, decision-making ability and creativity. You’ll have a more engaged staff because you’ll have a relationship that is built around trust with honest, ongoing communications, Marks says.

Offer Paid Time Off and Flexible Work Schedules

dangers of wasting time

“Offer paid time off and flexible schedules, so employees can take time off when they know they need it,” Marks says. “Policies for both paid time off and flex time should be as accommodating as possible, so the grownups who work for you can make decisions for themselves about what kind of downtime they need.”

Employees value flexible working hours almost as much as salary and benefits. Not all businesses can offer flex time, but if flexible hours are an option for your business, both you and your employees will enjoy the benefits. Studies have shown that flextime leads to:

  • Improved employee morale
  • Increased engagement
  • Reduced absenteeism and tardiness

When paired with clear goals and expectations, you can expect an increase in employee productivity, too.

Also encourage your employees to use their vacation time. Vacations give employees a much needed rest from work demands—essential for renewed focus, energy and productivity.

Reward Productivity

Your employees will put forth more effort if they feel valued and appreciated. Positive feedback for a job well done can go a long way, especially when delivered publicly. Monetary rewards will motivate employees to work their hardest, but they’ll still value rewards like gift cards or extra time off. By praising the work of an entire team—with a plaque or an extended group lunch, for example—you can build a collective team spirit while motivating a larger part of your workforce to keep up the good work.

Terminate Chronic Problems

“Some people in this world get stuff done. They’re extremely productive,” Marks says. “There are others who can’t make a cup of coffee in under an hour. You’ve done all the right things—provided goals, offered guidance, given them to-do lists—but at some point you have to decide if you want to be their parent or not. At some point, you need to take a step back and ask how profitable this person is for your business.”

You may decide it’s time to let an unproductive employee go. If you do, be sure to terminate your employee the right way to avoid potential legal complications later. At the very least, have a frank discussion with your employee informing them of their unsatisfactory performance, coach them on what they need to do to improve and allow a probation period for the improvements to materialize. Document everything and if performance doesn’t improve, follow up with a written notice before taking action.

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34 Responses to "What to Do When An Employee Wastes Too Much Time"
    • Jennifer | November 15, 2019 at 6:43 am

      Cheryl your benefits are great I will come work for you!

    • Liz | November 10, 2019 at 10:27 am

      This article has some excellent points, as do many of the comments.
      My biggest challenge is enforcing the rules or expectations – especially the phones/social media part of it. While I have a few employees who definitely abuse this, those same employees are also very reliable when it comes to showing up for work. So, I tend to bend the rules because it is easier to accept that downfall than it is to hire and train someone else – especially when it often takes 2 or 3 candidates before finding the correct fit.
      I know that that’s probably wrong of me – it probably means someone else is picking up the slack somewhere. Suggestions on how to fix this?
      Also, in terms of “flex-time” – I would love to hear more about how we could incorporate this into a restaurant setting. With the exception of some menu planning/costing, responding to emails, social media posts, etc (which I mostly do myself), restaurant jobs require being AT work during our open hours. What are some ways we could offer a similar benefit without affecting service? I do almost always make sure that time off requests are granted, and I let some people come in early to do some set up or side work so that they can meet their personal needs as well, but when it comes down to it, servers have to serve, cooks have to cook and dishwashers have to wash dishes DURING our operating hours.

    • Rachel Porter | November 7, 2019 at 10:29 am

      I too am not on board with this. I know millennials that do show up on time and put in a full days’ work and are quite productive, and know how to manage disruptions. They are rare, but they are out there.

      Someone else made the comment about managing people takes time away from her getting work done. That’s exactly it. The time I spend keeping 2 people going, I can do the work plus more on my own.

      I think the #1 problem is the mobile phone. Employment experts say to have clear rules and expectations, and spell out the consequences of rules are broken. In my book, that is parenting when the rules are show up on time, don’t engage in personal conversations while on the clock, potty breaks are just that – get in, do your business, get out.

      My style is more “do a good job, go above and beyond and be rewarded above and beyond.” I am generous with atta boys and bonuses. I like taking the crew out after a contract is completed for a nice dinner and debrief. Go over what went well, (always start there), what could have been done differently, where there any failures and if so, how can we avoid them in the future.

    • Al Galluccci | November 6, 2019 at 8:12 pm

      The reality is the entire service industry today is overcharging their customers to make up for a generation that has no clue what an 8 hour day is. How do you stop someone from talking on their cell phone when they will literally sit on the john for 20 minutes so they can. I walked in on an employee in customer’s home who was face timing with his wife as he worked. He looked at me and kept talking, literally had no clue he was doing anything wrong or why I was upset.

    • Kenny | November 6, 2019 at 12:45 pm

      I think there is some validity in this article. But the ability to implement some of these largely depends on what type of business you own. There are several factors are far as that is concerned. Cheryl and Steve made points as did Evan and George, but Evan and George you did not have to get personal with comments about Crystal. You don’t know her or her situation

      ” She also did a good job showing she is not someone good people would ever want to work for”

      “You sound like you work on a production line with Henry Ford. If what you say is true and every minute of every day is consumed by your unending toil and effort, then you should seek mental and physical counseling because your behavior is unhealthy.”

      There is enough negative commentary in today’s society. Offer a healthy opinion and move on.

    • Jeff | November 6, 2019 at 12:43 pm

      Cheryl cracks me up with the matter of fact rebuttal to this article. I own a restaurant for which about 30-40% of my employees are millennials. Those damn millennials! Unfortunately for the millennials, I just don’t tolerate the BS. I am a big proponent of coaching employees to get them to do things they way they should be done. Half of the time, I feel like I’m disciplining my children, but I can’t tolerate the non-completion of tasks in timely fashion. Coach them 1st, praise them when they do good, and send them down the road when they can’t or won’t shape up. Unfortunately, most millennials will have to lose or walk away from a few jobs before they learn how the real world works. They must learn “the hard way” that they are expected to stay off their phones and social media while working as well as complete tasks accurately and on time. There are some good take-aways from this article, but I believe that there isn’t much that can be done about the millennial mentality. I don’t treat them differently from any other employee. If they shape up, great! If they don’t, on down the road they go to their next learning experience. Good employees are harder to come by now more than ever! Reward the good ones. Do your best to make their WORK environment pleasing/ rewarding, but make them understand that it is WORK! I make a statement to every young dishwasher I hire…”It’s not a glamorous position, it’s hot and wet, it’s work and there is plenty of it” Some of them fail miserably, some of them get it done and hate the position, some of them get it done and make the best of it. I always hope for the latter. I own my own successful business because I am a driven individual with good work ethic, but I’m fooling myself to think that every employee I hire has the same drive and work ethic as I do.

    • Daniel Cerqueira | November 6, 2019 at 12:42 pm

      Excellent article and I agree.

      A quote: “Surround yourself with great people and get out of their way” (forgot who said that, but great!)

      and a great book: “Let my people go surfing”, by Yvonn Chouinard (Patagonia founder)

      Both of the above expand on this article.
      14 years successfully following these precepts at a Dental Practice I co-own and manage.

    • Celinet Sanchez | November 6, 2019 at 11:15 am

      Excellent informational resource to share with co-workers and other friends in our work area! Thanks.

      • Chloe Silverman | November 6, 2019 at 11:37 am

        We are so glad you found this helpful! Thank you for the comment, Celinet.

    • Wendy | November 6, 2019 at 11:10 am

      I have a small business and agree with your points of flex time and paid time off. We all need it.

      I’ve thought about restricting access to social media, but we use it in our daily work lives so it isn’t possible. It seems the young workforce needs mini distractions/breaks. I prefer the mini breaks over smoking breaks.

      We set goals and if they are meeting them, I don’t feel like I need to micro manage.

      Thanks for the article.

      • Chloe Silverman | November 6, 2019 at 11:38 am

        Thank you, Wendy!

    • George S. | November 6, 2019 at 11:08 am

      This is a response to Crystal above. You sound like you work on a production line with Henry Ford. If what you say is true and every minute of every day is consumed by your unending toil and effort, then you should seek mental and physical counseling because your behavior is unhealthy. The tips in this article can apply to parenting, dating, and pretty much any relationship in one way or another. Can you think of any significant relationship where praise, giving space (i.e. flex time), and goal and boundary setting mentioned above would not be important? Those and more can definitely apply to your employee/employer relations, Crystal. When you opened a small business you also hired employees because you understood that you could not be successful on your own. Thus, you must accept the fact that you need the people with whom you have surrounded yourself. Your statements about not having time to grow a relationship with your employees shows you fail to grasp the importance of your own needs as a business owner. I hope you will take time to foster a good relationship with those around you. You may find you will become happier and more successful in the process. You opened the business. You took on the responsibility of others. No one forced you to do this. If you do not want that responsibility, find work that you can do by yourself. You are also smart enough to open a business and probably smart enough to figure out how to make your employees satisfied and productive, and this article gives some tips on how to do that.

    • Cheryl | November 6, 2019 at 10:07 am

      I have read both the article and the comments. I run a small manufacturing business of 20 people. We have, for the most part, a pretty great crew. They, pretty much show up on time for work. Most of them show up exactly at 7am which is on time, maybe a minute or two early but several show up minutes late. I cannot remember when I have had a full payroll, meaning every person working their 40 hours per week. Is this really “OK”?

      I find we are teaching the so called “Millenials” their actions are “OK”. OK to have cell phones on their job, its ok to get a text message or two while working. Its really ok to be a minute or two late, it doesn’t matter that you have used all of your sick time and vacation time before the mid of the year, Its ok to just call in sick and not get paid, Its ok to go to the bathroom for 20 min at a time to search the web or have conversations on their phone, then loose track of how long they have actually been in there. they may be getting their jobs done, but could/ should they actually be doing more?
      As an example, verbatim, in this part of the article:

      “Give your employees specific deliverable, so your business runs the way you want it to; and leave it up to them to do what they have to do,” he says. “If people are showing up and getting their jobs done, it’s not a problem. If they aren’t, that’s a whole other discussion.”

      A hands-off approach is especially vital for the growing millennial workforce, Marks says. These younger workers often want and expect more independence and mobility, and they thrive on it. Micromanaging anyone is likely to backfire, but millennials in particular will quickly find it a good reason to move on.”

      This statement alone is telling me that Milennials have not been taught the importance of showing up to work on time, to work the hours they were hired to work every week, completing your tasks in a timely manner with accuracy, They have not been taught the pride of their job, because it can reflects who they are as a person. They are not being taught that there are repercussions for not coming to work and doing their jobs, instead they are taught, you can just move on or the easier way out, collect unemployment.

      In my opinion, going to work is just that. WORK. This should not be a social event. That is where the breaks and lunch time come into play. Although we promote interaction between everyone in the shop, socializing on media sites, is where my concern is, during work. We have implemented many incentives over the last decade. Pizza parties monthly, catered lunches after scrap runs, extra time off not otherwise noted in the hand book and this year, a team building outing. We pay over 80% of their health benefits, that is, who want it. We not only pay 80% for the employees but their spouse and families as well. Our benefit package is the best BC/BS will offer to a small business. Some employees feel that $56.70 a week is too much to pay. We pay in full the premium for all the employees dental, also for their families, if the employee has our medical insurance. We pay 3% of their yealy salaries to their 401k plan per year, they do not have to participate themselves.

      There has to be a point in time when you just cannot physically offer anymore incentives, or look the other way. As a partial owner, the lack of pride in ones job and the responsibility to the job, the lack pride in ones self and their responsibilities for themselves is bewildering. the lack of “Thank you’s” are also a concern. Each year during our self evaluations employees are asking for more amenities, some not appreciating the ones that they have. Its how society has been teaching them. Do less but get more.

      Its unfortunate to think that workers are setting the bar for how you are to run your business. It should be if you want to work in a clean safe place, with decent pay, good incentives, you need to prove yourself a good worker, be on time, and do not waste time. I was brought up that it is important to get the job done, in a timely manor and correctly. I was taught to have pride in the work that I am doing. I was taught, I am human and I will make a mistake, but learn from it. I was not taught is ok to make mistakes. There is a difference. I was taught this, so that one day, I could be recognized for a possible promotion or raise and to better myself not only in a career but in my personal life as well.

      Although I am not on board with this article, however I will take in the information in hopes to use bits and pieces of it for later use.

    • Marlene Cherry | November 6, 2019 at 9:50 am


      I have a small Montessori Preschool with 15 employees. Do you have any information that is geared towards this type of business. The information above is valuable, however, when dealing with all state regulations for schools, it can be difficult sometimes. I particularly like your “Terminate Chronic Problems” info.

      Thank you,
      M. Cherry

    • Chiq | November 6, 2019 at 9:40 am

      So what do you do when it’s the actual owner who wastes time & resources and yet expects the employees to spend every waking moment working?

    • Doc Owens | November 6, 2019 at 9:35 am

      Good information. We balance providing autonomy and expectations of productivity. We challenge our staff to look for those win-win situations at every opportunity. Our vacation and time off policy for full time employees is: “Yes”. Be productive while you are here and take a vacation when you want or a day off when you need it.

      Our practice continues to grow. We just brought on two new full time Team Lead positions. They are starting with clear understanding of my expectations for levels of productivity (measured by billable hours), and supported by a flexible schedule, flexible time off policy, compensation package supported by increased productivity, and an opportunity to work with some very fun and exciting therapists and counselors.

      • Chloe Silverman | November 6, 2019 at 10:34 am

        Thank you for sharing your experience with balancing productivity and time-off at your business. Wishing all the best to you and your practice!

    • steve bashagus | November 6, 2019 at 9:28 am

      we enacted a NO CELL PHONE policy. they put their phone in a cubby, clock in and get to work. at lunch they can check it, then back to the cubby, then they get it when they leave.
      “but my kids…”
      “what if there is an emergency…”
      they can give necessary persons work number.
      after 3 months the staff LOVE not having their phone buz them every-time something insignificant occurs. its been the BEST thing we have ever done and staff are detoxing from the addiction.

    • Evan K | November 6, 2019 at 9:20 am

      Crystal clearly missed the point of the article. She also did a good job showing she is not someone good people would ever want to work for. We implemented flex time over the summer to try things out at my agency. We have 22 employees and made the required in office hours 10am-4pm, allowing them to choose to work remote every day for two hours Or make up the time on the weekend. It has been a wonderful benefit for employees since they really appreciate that they don’t need to spend PTO to get their car worked on in the morning or take their kids to the doctor. We’ve continued to move forward with the policy since it is going so well. It does takes a level of trust! Thank you Stephanie for a great piece with extra reminders about how to deal with millennials.

    • LC | November 6, 2019 at 9:19 am

      My problem is when you bring this to the attention of the owner of the business and they do nothing. This brings down the whole team to just not care anymore. Why should they work harder than someone who isn’t performing their jobs. Other team members have to pick up the slack and add to their own jobs to get the work done.

    • Matt | November 6, 2019 at 9:14 am

      @Crystal. These are very valid points and great tips. However, there are definitely two lines of thinking. There are small businesss that want worker bees that just come and do the work with a specific kind of employee and their are small buisnesses that want to create a different type of atmosphere where the employees enjoy their work life and boss. I am not saying one is right and one is wrong; they are just different and they both can work with the right people. I have worked in both environments and I have just doubled my staff from 3 to 6. Its hard to find teh right people for your business and its even harder to constantly train and replace unhappy or unproductive employees.

      The younger generation has a different perspective about work and expectations of what a career should provide them. I have read a lot and implemented numerous new philosophies like flex time. Its hard but it seems to working well with the right people. I am working a lot more to make changes but I think it will pay off in the end. Good article.

      • Chloe Silverman | November 6, 2019 at 10:29 am

        Great insights, Matt. We are glad you enjoyed this article!

    • Marty | November 6, 2019 at 9:02 am

      Great tips on how to better lead your team to higher productivity.

      • Chloe Silverman | November 6, 2019 at 10:28 am

        Thank you for the comment, Marty!

    • Dave Wild | November 6, 2019 at 8:10 am

      Great tips

      • Chloe Silverman | November 6, 2019 at 8:47 am

        Thank you for the comment, Dave!

    • Marsha Wyzykowski | November 6, 2019 at 7:59 am


      • Chloe Silverman | November 6, 2019 at 8:48 am

        Thank you for reading, Marsha!

    • Ellen Richer | November 6, 2019 at 6:15 am

      Link to your podcast didn’t work or take me there.

    • Dr Stephanie White | November 5, 2019 at 10:58 pm

      Thank you

      • Chloe Silverman | November 6, 2019 at 8:47 am

        Thank you for the comment, Stephanie!

    • Crystal | November 5, 2019 at 10:28 pm

      Well, this may work for some folks but not me. I am hiring employees because I need them to do things to free up my time. If I have to babysit them, “be out there with them” “engage with them all the time” then I’m not getting any work done and what is the point of having employees? Those of us who have a small business can’t offer “flex time and paid time off” maybe this works for a large company but you clearly do not have any idea what a small business owner is dealing with…think its best to hire people that can do the job without having me pat them on the back every 30 seconds! This article was not helpful at all.

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