image via The Atlantic
image via The Atlantic

Americans are known for working hard, but that doesn't mean nobody ever slacks off at work. According to the American Time Use Survey, U.S. workers spend nearly 9 hours at work each weekday, but even by their own admission, not all that time is spent working. A Harris Poll suggests that the biggest time-wasters at work are browsing the Internet, socializing with colleagues, and of course, attending meetings. The Atlantic staffer Bourree Lam dives into the topic and has some interesting findings. Lam writes,

Dan Hamermesh, the co-author of a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper on whether effort at work responds to changes in the economy, along with the economists Michael Burda and Katie Genadek, looked at time-use data from 2003 to 2012 in order to see what people did when they weren’t working at work, and how that varied as the state of the economy changed. The researchers found that for most people, increasing the number of hours at work increases the share of time spent not working.

As for how the economy affected these numbers, the researchers looked at unemployment figures. They found that generally, the number of workers who reported not working at work decreased during bad economic times. But during down times, the workers that did loaf at work did a lot more of it.

“This was sort of a horse-race between rationales implying opposite observations,” says Hamermesh. “The neat result was that the probability of loafing at all does decrease in recessions, as Marx would say, but the amount of loafing done by those who loaf increases; and, indeed, this latter effect dominates on net.” The researchers concluded that this might be the case because while high unemployment increases the pressure not to slack off, those who choose to do so even during a recession—when there’s theoretically less work to be done—are ones who are the most dedicated loafers.

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