Time wasters in the workplace – ‘I don’t have time’

by Abrie Bronkhorst

Time is money. When an employee is employed, they undertake to be available for a number of hours to provide service. In exchange for this, the employer undertakes to compensate the employee for his availability and expertise. It then follows logically that the employer can expect the employee’s attention to be at work.

Several time wasters in the workplace are counterproductive. Employers should take note of the following:



Absenteeism and tardiness are two of the most significant time wasters in the workplace. Apart from the employee who does not provide services according to agreed hours, absence has far-reaching consequences regarding colleagues’ service delivery. For example, a colleague has to stand in for the absent employee and cannot focus on his own activities, or the progress of a project or task is slowed down because the absent employee’s input and contribution are awaited.

Apart from not being at work, absenteeism also means:

  • Arriving late (it is still absent as long as the employee is not at work)
  • Leaving early
  • Unauthorised breaks
  • Extended breaks (smoke, toilet, lunch, tea, etc.)

Extended smoke breaks:

Firstly, there is no obligation for an employer to provide for smoke breaks. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act only provides for meal breaks. If the employer allows smoke breaks, it should preferably be regulated by a smoking policy. If not, smoke breaks can get out of hand by happening irregularly and creating the opportunity for extended chatting and gossip. This can lead to smoke breaks during working hours being easily abused, resulting in valuable working time lost. Four smoke breaks of 15 minutes each represent an hour of working time.

Extended tea/coffee breaks:

Making coffee often involves chatting, and socialising in a workplace’s kitchen can easily last up to 20 minutes per coffee break. Three coffee or tea breaks of 20 minutes each represent an hour of working time.
  • Feigned illness
  • Other unexplained absences from the workstation or the premises.
It is the employee’s duty to commence and end duties at times required by the employer.

Lack of attention

A lack of attention often leads to unnecessary repetition, mistakes, and even negligent damage and/or loss of the employer’s property. In addition, precious time is lost because the employee did not give the necessary care and attention to the employer’s instructions, and tasks sometimes must be redone. This lost time cannot be made up.

Cell phone distractions

It is no secret that mobile phones disrupt the workplace by constantly interrupting employees’ concentration when a message, notification or call comes through. There is such a wide variety of smartphone applications available, which only increases the potential for disruption – Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, WhatsApp, and so on. Even if the employee uses their own data and airtime for personal messages, calls and internet access, working time still belongs to the employer. It must be used to promote the employer’s interests.
Depending on the employer’s business activities, using (personal) mobile phones can create a real problem. By implementing a mobile phone policy, the employer can create clear guidelines for using personal mobile devices so that the employer’s operational requirements are not negatively affected. Employees must also be able to use integrity and judgment to know when it is appropriate to be on their phones.
Time wasters in the workplace raise two critical questions in the labour environment. First, can employees who take frequent smoke breaks and extended coffee sessions be required to cover the lost hours? And can employees who neither smoke nor take extended coffee sessions receive this extra time in the form of time off?



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