Playing Hooky at the Office

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If you’re reading this on a weekday between nine and five, chances are, you’re “cyberloafing.” As a cyberloafer, you’re not alone: a recent study revealed that between 60 and 80 percent of time people spend on the Internet at the office is not work related.

So while the majority of your office is probably unproductively surfing the web on the clock, they’re probably wasting time differently based on age. “Older people are doing things like managing their finances, while young people found it much more acceptable to spend time on social networking sites like Facebook,” said Joseph Ugrin, an assistant professor of accounting at Kansas State University and lead researcher on the cyberloafing study.

Ugrin joined forces with John Pearson, an associate professor of management at Southern Illinois University, to investigate what was revealed to be an in-office procrastination epidemic. Beyond just determining how much time employees spent cyberloafing, they wanted to know to what extent companies’ anti-cyberloafing policies were working.

After all, bosses want their employees focused on work, and in recent years, companies have spent significant time and money to create best practices policies to curb  cyberloafing. These efforts—ranging from threats of firing and even Big Brother-type monitoring devices— have met with limited success and much grumbling among workers. Plus, these measures did not seem to put a dent in the number of employees whose desks may also double as adult movie theaters. (A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive found that 3 percent of employees polled admitted to watching porn at work regularly, a figure that's actually dropped over the years.) Deterring this hot-to-trot minority of workers and other more prudent cyberloafers has proved challenging as researchers and companies alike find that simply changing corporate Internet policy followed by enforcement is not enough.

For example, young people seemed to have trouble accepting that attending to their Facebook identity at work was not time well spent. And even when they were aware they were being monitored, according to Ugrin, “They still did not care.”

Ugrin and Pearson concluded that the only sure-fire way to curb cyberloafing was to ‘strictly’ enforce Internet use policies—often by making an example of certain employees and providing others with the details of their punishment. Otherwise, Ugrin said in an email, these rules are “relatively ineffective,” while other, similar studies show that “introducing a policy has negative consequences.”

As companies resort to more invasive measures, and yet employees continue to cyberslack, Ugrin asks, “Where’s the balance?”

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