What your YouTube habit is really costing your company

Frivolity isn’t free.
Frivolity isn’t free.
Image: AP Photo/Tony Avelar
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

I’ve watched YouTube for fun at work. You’ve watched YouTube for fun at work. Let he (or she) who has not sat at a desk and clicked on an SNL sketch—or the video a friend just texted you, or the livefeed of a game—cast the first stone.

Our collective enjoyment of time-wasting videos is adding up. The makers of the human resource software Bridge by Instructure recently surveyed 1,000 workers at US companies with more than 250 employees about their daily habits. Respondents watched an average of 77 minutes of non-work related videos a day.

An employee earning the US average wage of $26.53 per hour and watching an average amount of non-work video on company time is costing their employer more than $8,800 per year, according to Bridge’s calculations. At a company with 5,000 employees, that’s $44 million per year in lost Netflix/cat video/livestream time. Note: the figures assume that these employees/YouTube addicts work all 52 weeks of the year, with no vacation time (during which they can presumably watch more videos).

If 77 minutes of YouTube a day seems like a lot, it does not approach the most egregious abuses of recreational viewing at work. A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) that 4,800 employees in the Plano, Texas, office of struggling retailer JC Penney watched 5 million YouTube videos in a single month, a rate of video consumption that beggars belief.

Is all YouTube watching a useless waste of time? Should companies install web blockers as a cost-saving measure?

Nah. Research has found that taking short breaks during the workday sharpens concentration. A bit of mindless browsing in moderation doesn’t hurt. But if your goal is to truly be productive, those breaks are better spent screen-free—and preferably, outside.