All play, no work: Policy, enforcement may stop employees from wasting time online at work, researcher finds

January 31, 2013 by Trevor Davis

(—Businesses must deal with weary-eyed office workers who are sitting behind computer screens and watching cat videos, shopping online and updating their Facebook statuses.

A Kansas State University researcher studied cyberloafing—wasting time at work on the Internet—and the effects of Internet use policies and punishment on reducing cyberloafing.

Joseph Ugrin, assistant professor of accounting at Kansas State University, and John Pearson, associate professor of management at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, found that company policies are not enough to stop workers from wasting time at work and that sanctions with policies must be consistently enforced for policies to be effective.

The study will be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Cyberloafing results in lost productivity and could put companies in legal trouble when workers conduct illegal activity or unacceptable behavior like viewing pornography on work computers. Between 60 and 80 percent of people's time on the Internet at work has nothing to do with work.

Although organizations benefit from positive aspects of the Internet like improved communication, some have trouble addressing cyberloafing, Ugrin said. Companies spend time, money and effort trying to monitor computer usage, detect what employees are doing online and write policies for employees on acceptable Internet behavior.

The researchers, who surveyed and university students, found that both older and younger workers find ways to waste time on the Internet—but in different ways.

"Older people are doing things like managing their finances, while young people found it much more acceptable to spend time on like Facebook," said Ugrin, who studies behavioral and ethical issues related to accounting and information systems.

Threats of termination and detection mechanisms are effective deterrents against activities such as viewing pornography, managing personal finances and personal shopping, according to the study. However, that may not be enough.

Policies must be enforced to discourage activities like excessive personal emailing and .

"We found that that for young people, it was hard to get them to think that social networking was unacceptable behavior," Ugrin said. "Just having a policy in place did not change their attitudes or behavior at all. Even when they knew they were being monitored, they still did not care."

Researchers discovered that the only way to change people's attitudes is to provide them with information about other employees who were reprimanded.

But that strategy can have negative consequences in the workplace and can lower morale, Ugrin said.

"People will feel like Big Brother is watching them, so companies need to be careful when taking those types of action," he said.

The study allows questions for further study, Ugrin said.

"We don't want to make everyone at work upset because the corporate office is watching over their employees' shoulders," he said, "but what if are wasting all of their time online? Where's the balance?"

Explore further: 'Cyberloafing' at work no bad thing, study says

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5 / 5 (3) Jan 31, 2013
Some people also read at work. The nerve! ;)

I think businesses need to judge whether employees perform as expected. If they do then preventing them from relaxing on the net might do more harm than good. If not, then something needs to be done.

Also, it's not just an internet habit that can affect performance. People can spend hours talking to others or playing on their phones. You can't keep people working 100% of the time, and you probably don't want to.
1 / 5 (8) Jan 31, 2013
If they do then preventing them from relaxing on the net might do more harm than good.
Why not let them leave earlier so they aren't stealing from their employer? If it takes them 5 hours to do an 8 hour job, pay them for 5 and ship them home. This is nothing more than people wanting what they did not earn. That time (money) that they spend loafing could be used to employ another person, ultimately helping the economy at large.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 01, 2013
Everyone needs sanity breaks. The more employers try to get rid of ways for people to reduce stress, the more people are going to get mentally or physically ill and end up being less productive.
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 01, 2013
Since TSA will soon be enforcing the hunt for terrorists on the road, Americans will wear shock collars to prove they love Israel and harbor no ill thoughts toward all the wars the USA instigates illegally. Why not connect their collars to a timer on the Internet? Then management can feel safer. Slacking IS terrorism
1 / 5 (1) Feb 01, 2013
Remember - you must work harder - for less, to make the corporation successful.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 01, 2013
"People will feel like Big Brother is watching them, so companies need to be careful when taking those types of action," he said.

In a business environment, it's important for employees to understand their activities are monitored. Pretending otherwise is not productive, perhaps even harmful (consider legal ramifications).

As long as it's understood that a certain level of personal use is tolerated and some activities (e.g. gambling, pornography) are not acceptable, leave it up to the employee and his manager's discretion.
1 / 5 (7) Feb 01, 2013
Everyone needs sanity breaks.
...That's what breaks are for.

Funny the only people that voted my previous comment down are well known arch-conservatives here. Are you jealous you don't own your own business like I do geokstr? Maybe you'll be a job creator someday :)

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