8 Big Productivity Killers at Work

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Americans may be spending more time at work, but they're also becoming much less productive. Workplace productivity dropped 0.3% in the second quarter, following a decline of 0.6% in the first three months of the year, according to the Labor Department. It was the first back-to-back decline in productivity since the second half of 2008.

What gets the blame? Based on a series of studies from various research groups, federal agencies and nonprofit organizations, it could be any number of things, from sporting events to medical ailments to a variety of vices. (One thing it totally isn't: Internet surfing, which one study found actually makes employees more productive. Go figure.)
Did you know Facebook and texting actually increase work productivity? Here are the real culprits of lost productivity in the office.

We rounded up several estimates to find out which workplace productivity killers are among the more expensive. HR departments take note.

1. March Madness
Estimated Losses: More than $192 million
According to a report from outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an estimated 8.4 million work hours are lost to the annual three-week college basketball tournament held in March.

Challenger got the figure by multiplying the 8.4 million work hours lost to game-watching and bracket-making -- based on traffic statistics from CBSSports.com -- by $22.87, the average hourly earnings for private-sector workers.

The figures may look steep, but they're not terrible when you consider the bigger picture.

"Over the three weeks of the tournament, the nation's 108 million workers will have logged more than 11 billion hours of work," Challenger said. "The 8.4 million hours lost to March Madness is a relative drop in the bucket, accounting for less than one-tenth of 1% (about 0.07%) of the total hours American workers will put in over the three weeks of the tournament."

2. Flight delays
Estimated Losses: $4 billion
Back in 2010, a report commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration discovered that flight delays cost the U.S. workforce $4 billion in time wasted.

The fact that these delays also cost consumers $16.7 billion of their own money and airlines $8 billion of theirs may have contributed to the introduction of laws concerning how long airlines are allowed to keep planes on the tarmac, though the FAA has yet to report on savings.

3. Fantasy football
Estimated losses: $9.2 billion a year
March Madness isn't the only sporting event Challenger, Gray & Christmas has measured in terms of lost workplace productivity. Back in 2008, the firm put out a report that said fantasy football would cost employers $9.2 billion.

The stat was based on Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates of average team owners' salaries ($80,000) and hours spent running a team during the week (1.19). The firm estimated that fantasy football cost companies $45.22 per week per player.

Since then, however, Challenger has softened its stance on fantasy football in the workplace.

"It is difficult for companies to take a hard-line stance against fantasy football," Challenger said in a blog post. "The Internet technology that helped fuel the rapid growth of fantasy football participation and makes it possible to manage teams from one's desk also makes it possible for employees to attend to work duties during their personal time."

4. The Flu
Estimated Losses: $10 Billion
According to a recent survey from Walgreens, the flu caused Americans to miss 100 million workdays and $6.8 billion in wages last year, while companies were out about $10 billion, thanks to paid sick days and lower productivity from ailing workers who insisted on coming into the office.

The numbers may seem a bit a low when you consider how many Americans get sick with the flu -- more than 62 million a year -- but you have to the remember the flu is an equal opportunity illness in that people at all levels are susceptible. It also led to 32 million missed school days last year.

5. Food-Borne Illness
Estimated losses: $14 billion
Food-borne pathogens such as salmonella, listeria monocytogenes and norovirus cost the American workplace $14 billion in lost productivity in largely the same way the flu does, according to a report from the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogen Institute.

The figures could grow, considering recent stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate hospitalization related to food-borne illness is on the rise.

6. Long-Term Care Obligations
Estimated Losses: $33.6 billion a year
A recent report from AARP found that American businesses end up losing $33.6 billion each year to the cost of replacing workers who leave to care for a relative full time as well as the cost of employees who get less work done because they work fewer hours and are generally more distracted by their care obligations outside of work.

Additionally, a separate MetLife survey found the average caregiver in the 50-and-over age group loses $303,880 in lifetime earnings by leaving the workforce early to care for a loved one full-time.

7. Insomnia
Estimated Losses: $63.2 billion a year
The flu has nothing on losing sleep when it comes to losing wages. In September an annual sleep study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine revealed that insomnia costs the average U.S. worker 11.3 days, or $2,280 in lost productivity every year. As a nation, the total cost is 252.7 days and $63.2 billion.

8. Alcohol Consumption
Estimated losses: $160.5 billion a year
According to a report from the CDC, drunks cost this country $223 billion a year through excess alcohol consumption, 72% of which comes from lost productivity.

The other factors accounting for the remaining $62.5 billion are health care costs, criminal justice system expenses stemming from alcohol-related incidents and car crashes resulting from DUIs.

What are some other things that can lead to lower productivity? Find out in our roundup of 9 Ways to Waste Time at Work

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