Bosses may have it all wrong when they assume that funny cat videos and FAIL slideshows are a drain on the workplace. Some new research finds that a moderate amount of mindless web surfing actually makes workers more productive at their jobs.
And the more mindless the surfing, the better.
"Employees who browse the web more end up being more engaged at work, so why fight that if it's in moderation?" says Don J.Q. Chen, a researcher at the National University of Singapore and a co-author of the new report, presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management.
Although personal web browsing is generally seen as a workplace problem, Chen and his colleague, Vivien K. G. Lim, set out to determine if so-called "cyberloafing" had any benefits. They found that not only did it refresh workers after long work stretches, it made workers more productive than if they'd been given time to talk or text with friends or send personal emails.
In one experiment, the researchers established three groups who were performing the same work task. After a while, the first group was given a traditional break away from the computer; the second was told to go bundle sticks; and the third was allowed to fool around on the internet. When they returned to work, the latter group was significantly more productive than the other two.
Chen says the web surfing provided the workers with "an instantaneous recovery." "When you're stressed at work and feel frustrated, go cyberloaf. Go on the net. After your break, you come back to work refreshed."
In another experiment, researchers gave two groups a break from work, allowing one to send personal emails to friends, the other to surf the web as they pleased. Again, the group idling on the web came back more engaged. Chen suspects it's because writing emails requires a craft that some workers may find taxing.
Chen says there's a simple lesson for employers in the new findings.
"Hey, relax. Let them cyberloaf a little," he says of workers. "It will help them and it will help you, too."