Employees clock in more downtime when working from home

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Since stay-at-home and shutdown orders were enforced amid the coronavirus fallout, hundreds of businesses in the U.S. have turned to working from home to reduce exposure. But as the remote workforce expands, employers and employees have been faced with a new set of challenges — one of them being more downtime.

Remote employees average two hours of downtime per day, which is 20 minutes more per day than on-site employees, according to a new Paychex study, where 1,000 remote and on-site employees were surveyed about their daily downtime at work.

The transition to remote work has been beneficial to some workers, who have reported increased productivity due to fewer in-office distractions. When asked about the biggest reasons they decided to work remotely, 79% of remote workers responded with increased productivity and better focus, according to a study by Owl Labs, a video conferencing technology company.

But other employees may be negatively affected due to supervisors being unable to physically monitor downtime, says Joey Morris, a project manager at Paychex.

“The two most popular reasons for downtime were that employees completed work too quickly and that the availability of work was inconsistent,” Morris says. “Interestingly, nearly one in three employees said they chose to make downtime during their workday, making this the third most popular reason.”

The study found three hours of down time a day was considered too much, leading to boredom and other negative effects. Workers are more likely to leave a job due to excessive downtime than to be terminated for it, Morris says.

“This kind of excessive downtime was related to lower rates of job satisfaction, salary satisfaction, and employee retention,” he says. “More than one in 10 employees said too much downtime was responsible for leaving or being let go from a position.”

However, downtime can have some benefits, too. Thirty one percent of employees said they chose to make downtime during the day, and 23% said their work wasn’t urgent. Thirteen percent said they could ask for more work, but chose not to.

See also: Making the case for the six-hour workday

Taking breaks at work is important to make employees feel more engaged and productive, according to a survey from Tork, as North American workers who take a lunch break every day scored higher on a wide range of engagement metrics, including job satisfaction, efficiency, and likelihood to recommend their company to others.

The top ways in which employees spend their downtime at work are browsing the internet, socializing with co-workers, texting or messaging, eating food and browsing social media, according to the Paychex study.

While employers may want to reduce downtime and increase employee efficiency, results from the study indicate it is important to maintain a balance, Morris says. Having too little downtime was nearly as bad for employee satisfaction as having too much.

“Efficient management of employee time is not only important to a business' bottom line, but it is also important to employee satisfaction,” he says. ”Employees want to feel engaged when they come to work and there is an understanding that stagnation in any position can negatively influence one's career trajectory.”

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