Could it be you're taking a little work break at this moment — that morning headline check and cup of coffee?

Could it be you're taking a little work break at this moment — that morning headline check and cup of coffee?

My employer would not discourage you. But yours might, especially if your breaks and other personal activities put you in league with employees who admit in a new survey to frittering away an average of 1.7 hours of an 8.5-hour work day.

If you find that figure shocking, look at it this way: It's down from the 1.86 hours a day people said they wasted on average last year, and the 2.09 hours the year before. These findings are from Salary.com's third annual Wasting Time Survey, to which 2,000 AOL and Salary.com users replied online.

So are we saying that workers are starting to see the light? Not necessarily, says Bill Coleman, chief compensation officer at Salary.com. Actually, an improving economy and faster-paced business environment are most likely decreasing workers' need to kvetch, along with their downtime, he says. "As workflow increases, wasted time decreases."

But Andrea Cannavina of Hicksville, N.Y., who has held legal secretary positions at a number of area law firms, says that human resources and information technology folks have been removing some of the temptations by blocking instant messaging capabilities and sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

From the days before she started LegalTypist Inc., a virtual assistant business, she recalls at least three support staffers from various work sites whose official start time was 8:30 a.m., but who followed that with a 45-minute coffee and croissant break. Colleagues were "steamed," she says.

Still, downtime is a natural part of many work cycles, she says, such as those times when attorneys are in court or away on vacation. In those cases, support staff would do filing and get caught up with other projects — but some were "more than happy doing nothing but reading the paper all day."

Younger workers (those in the 20-29-year-old group) admit to frittering away the most time — an average of 2.1 hours per day — followed by 30-somethings, with an average of 1.9 hours. People in their 40s would seem to be the most virtuous, admitting to an average of only 1.4 hours of wasted time a day.

But, before we cast stones, Coleman says to consider the varying perceptions that people bring to the party. More seasoned workers may appreciate the time-consuming processes of gathering opinions and building consensus, but younger people, bred in an instant-gratification world, may categorize it as a big time waster. So, he says, "a certain amount of what's seen as wasted time may not truly be wasted."