Cyberloafing: A Needed Break or Slacking Off?

Sometimes your eyes glaze over while scrolling through your Excel spreadsheets, lengthy reports, or company emails. To give yourself a quick breather, you open a new tab in your web browser or grab your phone and start internet surfing. You’re not alone. The average employee drifts from their responsibilities to personal email, social networks and the far corners of the internet for anything between 2.5 hours a week to a few hours a day.

This phenomenon is called ‘cyberloafing’, the time you or your team members spend on the internet doing non work-related activities during work hours. We know that a distracted workforce means lost productivity, and we’ve all worked at offices where there’s restricted internet access. But we’re also familiar with the fact that burnout exists. So, what should we do?

When Is It Too Much?

The reality is that most workers slack off sometime during the day. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing — research suggests that these microbreaks can improve concentration, change how your team members view their jobs, and even help them avoid workplace injuries. It’s also linked to higher levels of employee job satisfaction, which can positively impact productivity. After all, your team members aren’t machines.

But trying to define the “optimal” break length is difficult and there is little research that objectively states what is considered too much or too little. Most studies recommend implementing acceptable internet usage policies and giving your team members reasonable leeway. Those working for companies that allow them to use the internet for non-work related purposes are more likely to regard them positively.

Are There Bigger Issues at Play?

If you and your team can set goals, achieve them, and hold each other accountable, then you likely have little to worry about. But in some cases, there is something more critical. Research from the Wisconsin School of Business has found that even those with a strong work ethic will cyberloaf if they are unhappy with their workplace. This unhappiness can stem from workplace bullying, a belief that they are being treated unfairly and inequitably, or poor employee empowerment. In such situations, instead of dealing with cyberloafing, employers should deal with the root causes.

Another big concern managers have is the compromise of the security of the corporate network. Cybersecurity threats can occur from using personal emails and even social media channels. Filtering dangerous websites should be a part of a multi-layered security strategy, but it’s not a cure-all for cyberloafing. Blocking “fun” websites isn’t much of a solution when people can access them through their cell phones with VPNs. And while cutting these websites out will lead to a safer network, your employees may still be unfocused.

Regardless of your company’s approach, ensuring you have a fair, accountable workplace is the best way to address employee productivity levels. Other strategies include implementing a mutually beneficial technology use policy or training on best practices. And until researchers figure out what the “right” amount of cyberloafing is, your most effective approach will be to create an environment where your team members don’t use the internet to “get away” from their day to day duties.