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Lost Productivity? Texting, YouTube Cost More Than World Cup

Hands up if you've been sneaking peaks of World Cup matches in the office.

For most major sporting events, there's analysis pointing to work-hours lost from employees who watch during office hours, or stay up late and then claim a "sick" day. During this year's March Madness, for example, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated potential losses at almost $1.22 billion for each unproductive work hour in the college basketball tournament's first week.

How many workers saw Robin van Persie's spectacular goal for the Netherlands against Spain on an office TV?
How many workers saw Robin van Persie's spectacular goal for the Netherlands against Spain on an office TV?Christophe Ena / AP

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Researchers have yet to release any estimate on U.S. productivity loss during this World Cup, but during the last tournament in 2010, InsideView projected that the U.S. economy lost $121.7 million, due to 21 million Americans watching for 10 work-minutes a day.

But such calculations don't quite jive with how most employees work, said Stan Veuger, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute—who took a break from watching the Spain-Netherlands match on Friday to speak with CNBC. "They assume people don't plan around this and just actively stop work to watch," he said. There's no accounting for fans who anticipate game-day distraction, and so schedule their days accordingly."

"The important part is, are you hitting your work goals and commitments?" said Ari Goldberg, chief executive of trend site Stylecaster. If that's happening, he said, he's happy to let employees tune in at one of the office TVs, or stream to their desktop.

Even if more workers tune in after the U.S. win over Ghana on Monday, World Cup viewers still represent a relatively small base. Just 3 percent of workers said their office is excited about the World Cup, compared with 5 percent for the Olympics, 7 percent for the World Series, 14 percent for March Madness and 53 percent for the Super Bowl, according to a survey from OfficeTeam.

"People throw a lot of blame at World Cup," said Jim Belosic, chief executive at marketing firm ShortStackLab, where employees can watch favorite teams on their own or join company-hosted viewing parties. "But in reality, YouTube, email and texting costs billions of more in lost productivity than World Cup could ever hope."