Productivity costs of reading news

Jenesa Jeram
Insights Newsletter
17 February, 2017

You probably shouldn’t tell your boss you are reading this.

If the Initiative’s newsletter regularly gets you worked up, agitated or argumentative then you might be better off comforting yourself by looking at cat pictures.

You see, it turns out that the regular consumption of political news might be leading to reduced productivity in the workplace. Full disclosure: I read the article while at work. The point of the piece is that in these turbulent political times, we’re all reading a lot more news during work hours. And some of it is making us angry.

While reading multiple takes on Bill English’s sheep shearing skills will cost your employer, it turns out some are trying to make this a government problem too.

public health expert recently cited the productivity costs of smoking as an appeal to government to introduce more aggressive anti-smoking measures. But if experts lament the productivity costs of smoking and obesity, it is anyone’s guess of what will be next in the firing line. Today they’ll come for the cigarettes and doughnuts, tomorrow it will be The Economist and cat videos.

But productivity costs are not direct costs to government. The public purse might suffer forgone income tax if a person drops out of the workforce early due to illness. But it is no more a cost to government than a person who chooses to retire early and live off their savings.

The real costs are borne by employers, which is why they have mechanisms to manage productivity. Annual reviews and remuneration processes are part of this. An awareness of workplace wellness has also led savvy employers to offer incentives encouraging a healthier lifestyle.

If employers are worried about how they can address the problem of copious news consumption, I have some ideas.  

To ease workplace tension, I suggest organising desks based on the political spectrum. Labour voters can sit with their fellow comrades, National voters can giggle over Andrew Little memes and New Zealand First voters can share cross-stitch patterns.

Or maybe employers can start dishing out political news as a reward? Rather than paying a bonus, wouldn’t it be awesome to receive the Initiative’s newsletter subscription instead?

Then again, it could be the case that consuming political news makes one a better employee. With any activity, you need to consider the benefits as well as the costs. Well, that’s the story I’ll be telling at my annual review, anyway.

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