Some disturbing statistics have emerged from other countries on how employees relate to their employment. What can we learn from this?

In terms of its definition, the word “work” is an interesting concept.

It is rarely used in relation to its literal meaning, which is “to exert oneself physically or mentally in order to accomplish a specified goal or goals”.

More typically, it is used as a noun as in “when I arrive at work” or as an abstract noun, as in “I was at work today”.

As such, work encompasses several meanings depending on the context in which it is used.

A recent American survey estimated that on average people spend about two to three hours a day engaged in work as opposed to being “at work”.

The rest of the time is spent surfing Internet sites, sending personal e-mail, making personal telephone calls, standing at water dispensers or simply gazing out of the window.

Online but not on the job

In 2003, Internet Policy Consulting estimated that Internet surfing alone costs the United States economy approximately US$250 billion (S$320 billion) a year. This is roughly equivalent to the entire working population working a four-day week.

Websites are accessed by 35 per cent more people at work than at home, presumably because there is usually more to do at home.

Some 46 per cent of holiday bookings take place at work; 35 per cent of online dating takes place at work.

The idea of people “leading joined up lives” simply means that home activities can now be brought to work by virtue of the Internet.

Bear in mind also that these figures are based upon employees’ own estimates of their own Internet usage and, as such, are likely to be fairly conservative estimates.

Out of sight

Today’s technology offers the disaffiliated employee many opportunities to alleviate boredom.

These include computer programmes that make it appear that the computer is running an installation test while the employee is taking a coffee break.

At the same time, you can only waste time at work if you are actually at work.

Workplace absence costs the United Kingdom (UK) an average of 176 million lost working days a year.

“Throwing a sickie” or feigning sickness has reached high levels in the UK with a disproportionate number of days being lost on Fridays and Mondays.

UK doctors receive nine million suspect requests for medical certificates each year.

Unauthorised absence from work usually signifies frustration, indifference and alienation.

Employees cope with this in different ways.

According to UK employment agency Reed, days lost as a result of staff hangovers cost the UK economy 2.8 billion pounds (S$5.4 billion) a year.

To place this in context, this is approximately equivalent to the budget set aside by the British government for the deployment of troops and equipment for the Iraq war for an entire year.

Employers need to look beyond the statistics and think more carefully about what they signify.

If considerable numbers of employees are feigning sickness, then it must be asked, what do they contribute when they are actually at work?

Doing homework in office

A somewhat disturbing insight is provided by an employee of a large UK company, who says: “I cannot sit here bored every day so I bring my course notes to work and disguise them among the papers that I shuffle.

“I also pay my credit card bills, sort out my bank statements and engage in personal conversations on the telephone with friends — mentioning the company’s name at regular intervals to avoid suspicion.” (Source: David Bolchover, “The Living Dead”, 2005.)

Disconnected and disengaged

Gallup recently identified the apathetic employee syndrome —“people who are totally emotionally disconnected from their work” or the “actively disengaged”.

A recent survey in the UK revealed that most employees don’t even know the name of their organisation’s chief executive officer.

Sociologists point to a decline in levels of job satisfaction since the 1950s.

At the same time, growing prosperity has given rise to higher expectations.

The more we have, the more we want. Likewise, a better-qualified labour force, as is the norm in virtually all post-industrial societies, means higher expectations on the part of the participants.

Contrary to popular wisdom, length of service with an organisation does not, in most cases, nurture a sense of affiliation and belonging.

Recent research suggests that employees tend to be enthusiastic at the outset but this initial enthusiasm wears off quickly.

Another poll conducted by Gallup of over 1,000 Singaporeans aged between 18 and 54 revealed that the number of dissatisfied employees is rising.

Of these, most said that they had not received any form of appraisal for six months.

Most employees have a deep-rooted urge to contribute something meaningful and to utilise the abilities that they were born with.

An individual’s greatest achievements come about as the result of developing their strengths, not from working on their weaknesses.