An Australian study challenges employers’ hard-wired conviction that employees surfing the internet at work for fun are hurting the bottom line. The findings promise to add to the body of advice from experts in workplace ergonomics for improving productivity and employees’ overall concentration.
“Firms spend millions on software to block their employees from watching videos on YouTube, using social networking sites like Facebook or shopping online under the pretence that it costs millions in lost productivity,” said Dr. Brent Coker from the Department of Management and Marketing at Melbourne University, the lead researcher in the study. “However, that’s not always the case.”
In the university news release about the study, he said that workers who engage in what he terms Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing (WILB) are more productive than those who don’t because it improves concentration levels. “People who do surf the Internet for fun at work – within a reasonable limit of less than 20 percent of their total time in the office – are more productive by about 9 percent than those who don’t,” he says.
The findings from the study of 300 workers showed that 70 percent of people who use the Internet at work engage in WILB. Among the most popular WILB activities are searching for information about products, reading online news sites. Playing online games was the fifth most popular, while watching YouTube movies was seventh.
The attraction of WILB, according to Dr Coker, can be attributed to people’s imperfect concentration. “People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration. Think back to when you were in class listening to a lecture – after about 20 minutes your concentration probably went right down, yet after a break your concentration was restored.
“It’s the same in the work place. Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day’s work, and as a result, increased productivity.”
But WILB can be too much of a good thing if the surfer is an internet addict. “Approximately 14 percent of internet users in Australia show signs of internet addiction,” he said. “They don’t take breaks at appropriate times, they spend more than a ‘normal’ amount of time online and can get irritable if they are interrupted while surfing. WILB is not as helpful for this group of people – those who behave with internet addiction tendencies will have a lower productivity than those without.”
SOURCE: Melbourne University