Are you wasting your company's time?

Portrait of a tired young business man bored during meeting

(MoneyWatch) Americans work some of the longest hours, and take some of the shortest vacations, in the developed world. But much of that time isn't productive. Indeed, a new survey by Bolt Insurance argues that time wasting costs American businesses up to $134 billion a year. So, if not in productive work, where does all the time go?

Job hunting: 46 percent of employees surveyed said that they spent time looking for a new job. In part, that was because they were fed up with other time wasters: Annoying employees, too many meetings and office politics. A great deal of work was described as "busy work" that took time but added next to nothing to the bottom line (or the employee's competence).

Fantasy Football: Apparently 8 million office workers cost their employees over a billion dollars because they're spending time looking after their fantasy football leagues.

Websites: 60 percent of respondents said that they spent time on websites that bore no relevance to work whatsoever. These includes the usual suspects: Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Google and Amazon.

So why are so many people wasting so much time? Why aren't they doing more, or finding that new job? 35 percent said they weren't challenged; 32 percent said they felt no incentive; and 34 percent said the hours were too long -- they'd work harder if they had less time to get their work done.

Do you believe these numbers? I'm not sure I do; they feel a lot more like the world before the recession than today. What I do believe is that most people are under-utilized at work, not because they're wasting company time but because their managers don't know who they are or what they're capable of. This usually creates a stalemate: Managers rarely appreciate the talent they have and employees rarely appreciate the need to show what they're made of. As long as they're perfecting their fantasy leagues, nothing will change that.

Career development is a joint responsibility. Every self-respecting manager should recognize that understanding and developing talent their priority because it is how the work gets done. But employees need clearly to signal what they can do and what they want to learn. It only takes one to stop the conversation.

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    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on