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These are the top workplace productivity killers

The way people waste time at work might surprise you.

Cell phone in office
Helen King | Getty Images

Bosses say workers waste too much time on their personal phones. Employees tell a very different story, a recent poll has found.

While only 10 percent of employees with smartphones said the devices decrease their productivity during work hours, employers pointed to mobile phones as the number one reason for interruptions, according to a new survey from CareerBuilder.

In fact, the results showed that nearly 20 percent of bosses believe workers put in less than five hours a day of actual work. That's a lot of squandered time, said CareerBuilder spokesperson Jennifer Grasz.

"Lost minutes can add up to lost hours very quickly," she said. "That said, workers need breaks to recharge. Distractions are only a problem when they impact the quality and quantity of work performed."

So are employers overstating the impact of distractions on productivity, or are their fears founded?

On one hand, it's reasonable to suspect that smartphones have an effect on workers: About 80 percent own these mobile devices and 70 percent keep them "within eye contact" at work, the survey found.

On the other hand, bosses seem to overestimate how much time employees spend on activities like gossip.

Most workers surveyed said they take breaks on their phones for more mundane activities, like checking weather, news, and personal messages.

Then again, a perhaps surprising number of respondents — about 100 people total — admitted they actually view adult or pornographic websites at work.

Respondents were surveyed between February and March 2016 and included more than 3,000 private workers and more than 2,000 managers.

No matter how, exactly, workers waste time at the office, even small disruption can have an outsized impact on output, said workplace productivity coach Marsha Egan.

"It takes the average person about four minutes to recover from any interruption," she said. "It's hard for people to pick up exactly where they were."

Given how distracting modern workplaces are on their own, with constant email pings and office instant messaging, workers can't really afford to spare the attention stolen by personal smartphones, Egan said.

Indeed, about half of employers complained that distractions were responsible for lower quality of work, and more than a quarter said they led directly to revenue loss, according to the survey.

The most popular solution among bosses to prevent wasted time is to block certain websites, the survey found.

About a quarter of those who said they've taken at least one step toward improving productivity said they have banned personal phone calls, and about the same proportion said they have instituted scheduled breaks.

While policing workers without managing their expectations can make an office feel oppressive, like Big Brother is watching, said Grasz, official break times can be a healthier way to nudge employees to stay focused during work hours.

Compartmentalizing time this way is good for workers' mental health, too, said Egan. It's more manageable to see yourself as a "switch tasker" rather than a "multi-tasker, she said.

"With the expectation that they be connected 24/7, people feel crushed under the weight of it all," Egan said. "It's better to give one task full focus for a few hours, then go out for a walk."

If the allure of your buzzing phone is too tempting to ignore, there's one easy step you can take, said productivity expert Peggy Duncan: Keep your phone in a drawer, or in your pocket.

Or, if all else fails, she said, just turn it off.