Americans aren’t slacking off at work—they’re just doing their other jobs

Cigarette breaks are just the start.
Cigarette breaks are just the start.
Image: AP Photo/Richard Vogel
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Ask Americans how much time they spend slacking off at work, and they’re likely to . . . hedge. Other people may waste hours on the clock sleeping, watching YouTube videos, or shopping online, sure, but few people are willing to admit to doing it themselves.

When asked what they do in those relatively few minutes they confess to wasting, the workers of the US reveals themelves as a nation of incredibly industrious loafers, pursuing all sorts of personal enrichment on the company dime.

From 2013 to 2017, respondents to the American Time Use Survey—conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics since 2003—reported that they spent 92.3% of time at work doing their actual job. Roughly half of the time the average person claimed to give to non-work activities was spent eating or drinking. Another 22% was devoted to a job other than the one they were currently being paid for, and the rest spent on the types of activities typically associated with goofing off at work: socializing, internet use, cigarette breaks, and the like. (Each person is different though. Some workers report far more time on their side hustle or smoking than others.)

Self-reported data is famously suspect, and previous researchers have noted the conspicuous lack of on-the-clock downtime reported on the Time Use survey. A working paper from the US Bureau of Economics Research noted in 2016 that respondents reported an average of 34 minutes per day not working while at work. But when they removed all of the people who refused to cop to even a single minute of breaktime during the workday, average loafing time rose to 50 minutes a day.

The most common activities people do in their downtime are in the chart above. Below is a partial list of the myriad activities that Americans have admitted to doing at work instead of their actual jobs.

Other ways Americans admit to wasting their time at work:

  • Personal care
  • Cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Sewing
  • Home decoration and repairs
  • Purchasing or selling real estate
  • Building and repairing furniture
  • Lawn, garden, and houseplant care
  • Caring for and playing with pets
  • Caring for children
  • Caring for adults
  • Civic obligations
  • Personal finances
  • Vehicle repair and maintenance
  • Assembly and/or repair of tools, appliances, and toys
  • Personal phone calls
  • Home security
  • School meetings and parent-teacher conferences
  • Personal emails
  • Income-generating rental property activities
  • Grocery shopping
  • Comparison shopping
  • Purchasing gas
  • Listening to music
  • Arts and craft
  • Writing
  • Attending performing arts
  • Attending gaming establishments
  • Doing aerobics
  • Playing basketball
  • Watching basketball
  • Biking
  • Billiards
  • Football
  • Golfing
  • Running
  • Soccer
  • Weightlifting
  • Yoga
  • Attending religious services
  • Fundraising
  • Job searching