Americans Spend Up To 80 Percent of Internet at Work Time ‘Cyberloafing’

First Posted: Feb 06, 2013 11:27 AM EST

A gigantic amount of time at work and thus productivity is wasted by surfing the web - this is a fact few will doubt, and now there is another small study using surveys to put some numbers behind it. The prevalence found by the Kansas State University researchers are quite astonishing though, finding that between 60 and 80 percent of people's time on the Internet at work has nothing to do with work.

Joseph Ugrin set out to study both cyberloafing -- wasting time at work on the Internet -- and also the effects of Internet use policies and punishment on reducing cyberloafing. The answer to the latter is grim though - he 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 at least somewhat effective.

Cyberloafing obviously results in lost productivity, but could also put companies in legal trouble when workers conduct illegal activity or unacceptable behavior like viewing pornography on work computers. The paid work time spent on watching YouTube, reading facebook updates, commenting on reddit etc amounts to several hundred billion dollars per year. Over three fourths of employees admitted to use their facebook account at work, most YouTube views are during work hours, and the same goes for the majority of all private online purchases.

It is not just a financial matter though, but likely has mental and physical health implications as well. Americans have among the longest work hours in the world, but sitting all day long in the office is detrimental to health - so extending that time by dabbling around in the web is more than unnecessary. Germany and other rich European countries with high productivity stats have 6 weeks paid vacation (and paid sick leave) instead, which is probably healthier and also more exciting for employees than surfing the web in their cubicles.

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 office workers 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 social networking sites 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 social networking.

"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.

"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 workers are wasting all of their time online? Where's the balance?"

The study will be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavio

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