Business pays dearly for employee's freedom

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$266 billion (£180 billion) is lost to the British economy each year as a result of staff organising their personal lives from work.

The lines between life and work are becoming more blurred, and the workplace has become a more liberal environment. Dress codes are less formal, management practices are less rigid, employees have more freedom in their access to telephones and email, and there is more sympathy for people with onorous personal responsibilities, such as child care.

According to the Arena21 Work/Life Survey, published on 1 October 2001, nearly 50% of the working population is happy to spend billions of pounds of company time organising their personal lives during working hours.

Workplace in transition
The survey, which interviewed over 1000 working adults across the country on how they spend their time in the work place, finds that they are entirely comfortable chatting, writing personal e-mails, reading, paying bills, sneaking off to shop, hanging around at home to oversee repairmen, organising their social lives and the like, when they should be hard at work.

Oliver Quambusch of arena21, the UKÕs leading provider of corporate concierge services, says:

"This report makes uncomfortable reading for employers. People have been given more freedom at their place of work and they have not been slow to take advantage of this freedom. They do their grocery shopping. They organise their social life. They book their holidays. They surf the Internet. They pay their bills. They sit and gossip.

"All this makes for a happier person at work, but there are costs that travel hand in hand with this new found freedom. Our survey has quantified these for the very first time.

"Employers are in a bind. They run the risk of losing valuable staff if they do not allow people to take time out to do their personal stuff. But they lose a great deal of money if they do. It is companies like Arena21 that are providing the solution."

No value judgement
Of all those surveyed, 49% say that they have spent time in personal activity during work time over the last two months. That is equivalent to 12 million people. The report makes no value judgement, but just points out the facts.

Status and commitment
Those with A-levels and university degrees and those under 25 are very likely to spend their work time doing personal chores. People with very young children, and those earning over £17,000 are the most likely of all to spend their work time on personal stuff.

Those with higher qualifications and higher-than-average earnings are more likely to feel secure enough in their status to feel comfortable running their personal lives from the office. They are likely to be less strictly managed, and more in control of how they spend their time.

The most popular personal activities undertaken whilst at work are:
¥ paying bills (30%)
¥ personal phone calls (24%)
¥ grocery shopping (24%)
¥ non-grocery shopping (19%)
¥ reading and surfing the Internet (17%)
¥ writing personal letters and e-mails (16%).

The breakdown
¥ £50 billion is lost to employers through staff doing unavoidable personal chores like shopping and paying bills.

¥ £72 billion is lost due to staff taking time out to make one-off arrangements such as booking holidays, getting hold of cinema and theatre tickets and organising plumbers and repairmen.

¥ £58 billion is lost as a result of employees catching up on their social life at work.

It is posssible that this is an underestimate of the real situation. A direct question does not necessarily illicit an honest response from everyone. They may be a fair number of working adults who are not prepared to admit that they spend any time at work doing anything other than work-related tasks.

Londoners take advantage
Londoners (71%) and workers from North West England (61%) are most likely to take advantage. Those from North East England (38%) and Scotland (42%) are least likely to swing the lead.

Part-time workers (41%) and those over the age of 45 (44%) are least likely to engage in personal activities whilst at work.

Cost of shoplifting
To give a comparison, the British Retail Consortium estimates that that the total loss to the UK economy in the year 2000 as a result of shoplifting was £746 million. The survey is not suggesting that employees who run their personal lives at work are engaged in criminal activity. However, the survey did ask these people whether they thought taking company time was morally wrong.

Over a quarter (equivalent to three million people) of those who admitted to running their personal life at work said that they thought that it was wrong. And half of these further admitted that they actually thought they were stealing from their employers.

Employers need a compromise solution that satisfies the changing lifestyle requirements of their staff, without costing them the earth.

Broadsheet bias
Broadsheet newspaper readers take a far harder line than tabloid readers. 22% of those who read the Independent, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, FT and Times consider it to be as bad as stealing.

Daily Mail readers are a very immoral bunch compared to Daily Express readers who believe it's wrong to spend your company time doing personal things.

The survey has been commissioned by Arena21, which provides corporate concierge services to large companies. It allows employees to offload all their personal chores on to an Arena21 representative, paid for by their employer. It is as if all employees had been automatically been given unrestricted access to the worldÕs best PA. The employers get the most out of their staff, employees are able to sort out their personal life and Arena21 does all the work.

The survey was undertaken by Ipsos RSL on behalf of Arena21.1080 working adults over the age of 15 were interviewed over the period between August 31 2001 and September 6 2001. Ipsos RSL is IS09001 and BS7911 accredited. All survey techniques confirm to Market Research Council guidelines for good practice.

Arena21

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