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Procrastination at the workplace

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Time is becoming a scarcity due to the rapid developments in technology. Information overflow, the need for change, and a shift in priorities are often a response to the increasing demand for products and services accelerated by the expanding global competition. Therefore, the ability to optimize one’s time to improve performance and increase productivity is a skill that is highly valued in today’s workplaces.

However, to grow such a skill, one must also deal with procrastination which includes the tendency to avoid starting and finishing tasks, as well as poor time management. As such, this problem of procrastination is becoming frequent and costly, especially for businesses. Some studies found that 30-65% of this wasted time is suggested to contribute 30-40% of productivity loss. This, in turn, was found to incur annual losses amounting to $8,875 per employee, adding up to $85 billion per year in the US only.

Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the act of procrastination. This includes defining what it is, why people do it, who does it more, how it is done, and what happens as a result of it. From there, one can understand ways to reduce it and decrease its impact.

Defining procrastination

Procrastination is a trait that has been defined as the tendency to “voluntarily delay an intended course of action, despite expecting to be worse off for the delay”. Organizational researchers studied irrational delay of work but referred to aspects such as time management at work, cyberslacking, and presenteeism. In terms of the workplace, employees procrastinate in two ways: soldiering and cyberslacking.

Soldiering is the act of avoiding work without passing it on to their colleagues. Examples of this include daydreaming and having extended coffee breaks. Meanwhile, cyberslacking is spending time in digital media which includes online shopping, gaming, or engaging in instant messaging. This is more detrimental as it has seen reduced performance and lower network security, incurring costs of around $130,000 per organization in the US alone.

Different conditions can explain why procrastination happens. For example, employees with high education, income, and job autonomy levels are more likely to procrastinate. These employees experience what researchers call “time famine” wherein the pressure to meet multiple deadlines is unequal to the time they have to complete them. Meanwhile, lower-level employees tasked with work requiring less cognitive complexity can perceive the work as boring and can often engage in procrastination. 

Impact at work

Employees often take breaks to re-energize. However, excessive breaks may result in procrastination that leads to costly delays. Furthermore, employees commonly face interruptions like procrastination that lead to work disorganization and can affect the completion of a task.

Procrastinators may choose to work on achieving easy and short-term goals instead of striving for hard and long-term goals. Even if they choose to go for easier work, their goals are vaguely set without deadlines or evaluation of progress. Due to this, they are more likely to be behind schedule on their projects and have lower scores on aspects such as time management. They also make more errors and work slower than non-procrastinators when performing time-limited tasks. 

As a result of procrastination, an employee would be likely to experience low self-esteem and a lack of impulse control. They would also have higher levels of anxiety compared to non-procrastinators. This creates a vicious circle of procrastination to make up for their anxiety and improve their mood. They are also found to be relatively more agitated, dejected, anxious, and miserable in the long run. 

Solving the problem

Procrastination is the silent killer for any organization today. It is also an underestimated problem that can end up incurring massive financial and productivity losses. Organizations should give more attention to solve this issue and maintain effectiveness. To do that, here are some ways that organizations can tackle employee procrastination.

First, organizations should provide training employees on time management to reduce the tendency of their employees to procrastinate. Some studies showed that a one-month training course on time management reported a significant decrease in avoidance behavior and worry. Research also showed that this can reduce procrastination by increasing the ability of employees to manage their time better.

Second, providing training on self-regulation skills which can relate to sales performance and prove to be important in time management. As self-regulation can help improve one’s self-control, it also instills the practice to achieve goals that have long-term gains instead of short-term gratification. Additionally, developing this skill helps foster high job performance amongst their employees and curb counterproductive behaviors. 

Finally, organizations can make use of job crafting to motivate their employees to be more involved in their jobs. This includes deciding over different aspects in how they want to work on tasks to match their preferences, skills, and competencies. This can be a useful strategy to make the job more interesting for employees and limit procrastination.

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