The quaint-sounding term cyberloafing has not-so-quaint economic consequences: a whopping $85 billion annually in the U.S alone (Zakrzewski, 2016). Cyberloafing refers to spending time on the internet such as checking personal emails and surfing the web during working hours (Lim, 2002). It’s not the 10 minutes or so staff might use to blow off steam checking their fantasy football after a tedious assignment, which may improve overall productivity (Lim & Chen 2009). What is damaging is that researchers estimate employees spend between 60-80% of their internet time while they are at work on non-work activities (Ugrin & Pearson, 2013). When you think about it, it makes sense because most of us spend the majority of our day at work.
Exacerbating the problem is the estimated 23 minutes it takes to mentally return to the original task after an interruption (Mark & Klocke, 2008). So, the minute it takes to check Instagram is really one minute plus 23 refocusing minutes. Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics at UC Irvine and an expert in human-computer interactions, writes in The New York Times that this “attention residue adds to our cognitive load as we keep switching our focus of attention and trying to reorient to new topics” (Mark, 2011).
The reasons people cyberloaf are complex. Research has found that emotions, attitudes, the lack of negative consequences, and personality factors can be predictors of participation in this costly habit (Varghese & Barber, 2017). However, some of the more controllable factors for decreasing the amount of time on the internet include minimizing stress, role conflict, and role ambiguity while increasing workplace accountability, employee engagement, and job satisfaction (Varghese & Barber, 2017).
What can be done to curtail cyberloafing? Blocking websites or using software to monitor internet may not be the best solution since it addresses the symptom not the problem. Besides, everyone brings his or her own cyberloafing devices, a.k.a. smartphones, to work. Authors of the 2017 study on cyberloafing mentioned above highlight the benefits of organizational training and development to address workplace stressors (Varghese & Barber, 2017). They recommend “role stressor interventions that can alleviate issues surrounding employee cyberloafing.” This could, perhaps, include allowing employees to participate in decision-making. This theory was given credibility in a 2016 study in which participants were far more productive if they democratically decided to switch off the internet compared to another group, whose members did not increase productivity when the boss autocratically pulled the switch (Corgnet, Hernan-Gonzalez & McCarter, 2015).
Granted, reducing or eliminating role conflict, and other workplace is no small feat. While you’re working towards that ultimate goal, there are ways managers can help minimize cyberloafing. For example, allow and encourage employees to take small amounts of time (five minutes or so) throughout the workday to completely unplug. Even brief intervals of focusing on the present can improve attention and decrease amount of time it takes to refocus. Plus, practicing mindfulness helps to create the mental space to make good choices about how you spend your time.
No matter how you choose to deal with this issue, make sure that you engage everyone in the discussion. Having an open and honest discussion around this problem will go a long way to finding a workable solution.
I would love to hear how your mindfulness practice has helped you or your employees reign in cyberloafing.
Corgnet, Brice, Hernán-González, Roberto & McCarter, Matthew W. (2015). The Role of the Decision-Making Regime on Cooperation in a Workgroup Social Dilemma: An Examination of Cyberloafing. Games, 6(4), 588-603.
Lim, V (2002). The IT way of loafing on the job: Cyberloafing, neutralizing and organizational justice. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23, 675-694.
Lim, Vivien K. G. & Chen, Don J. Q. (2009). Cyberloafing at the workplace: gain or drain? Behavior & Information Technology, 31(4)
Mark, Gloria (2014). Click Bait Is a Distracting Affront to Our Focus. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/11/24/you-wont-believe-what-these-people-say-about-click-bait/click-bait-is-a-distracting-affront-to-our-focus
Mark, Gloria & Klocke (2008). The cost of interrupted work: more speed and stress. Proceedings of the 2008 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems: Florence, Italy.
Zakrezewski, Cat (2016). The Wall Street Journal.
Ugrin, J., & Pearson, J. M. (2013). The effects of sanctions and stigmas on cyberloafing. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 812-820.
Varghese, Lebena & Barber, Larissa ( 2017). A preliminary study exploring moderating effects of role stressor on the relationship between Big Five personality traits and workplace cyberloafing. Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberpsychology, 11(4).
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