Is Your Web Use Policy Hurting Worker Productivity?

August 20, 2014 at 1:43 pm Leave a comment

Are you banning personal web-surfing during work hours at your office? Early findings from a University of Cincinnati study may have you rethinking that policy, as research indicates that taking online breaks at work can leave employees refreshed and actually help improve their productivity.

The study, led by doctoral candidate Sung Doo Kim, used one-on-one interviews about online breaks with 33 professionals from a variety of industries and occupations. These online breaks fell into two categories: pleasure-seeking (such as listening to music, reading articles for fun or checking sports scores) and non-work-related responsibilities (for example, paying bills or checking in with family).

Researchers found that workers stopped for an online work break at times when they felt frazzled from an intense work period or needed to recover from a significant loss of energy. The result of these quick breaks generally fell into one of three areas: momentary recovery, learning and/or satisfaction.

The researchers do add that undisciplined online breaks can result in excessive loss of productivity. HR managers who want to test out a policy allowing responsible online behavior can recommend time limits or even offer training sessions that talk about benefits from online breaks and how to utilize them wisely.

The UC study might come as a relief to HR managers who have been battling Millennials who insist on keeping tabs on their social media circle in the workplace or older workers managing finances during work hours—not a stereotype, but the findings of a 2013 study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. The 2013 study noted that both older and younger workers find ways to waste time on the Internet and that between 60 and 80 percent of people’s time on the Internet at work has nothing to do with work.

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 often are not enough to stop workers from wasting time at work and that policies must be consistently enforced in order to be effective.

“We found that for young people, it was hard to get them to think that social networking was unacceptable behavior,” Ugrin commented in a news release on his study. “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.

Whether or not the occasional online break is beneficial to employee productivity, most HR managers likely would agree that workers spending 60 percent of their working hours surfing the net for the next hot Internet meme are not adding to your productivity. The result is that most companies should have a written Internet usage policy included in their company handbook.

That policy could warn workers that you are able to monitor their Internet usage, which can discourage visits to inappropriate content (although it wouldn’t hurt to actively block pornography, gambling and other content you deem inappropriate). Putting time limits in your guidelines also gives you something to point to if you notice online breaks interfering with an employee’s work.

Kim is looking at further expanding his study to explore online breaks in a wider pool of industries. In the meantime, to read the full article about the new University of Cincinnati research, visit http://www.uc.edu/news/NR.aspx?id=20164.

And if you need a work break yourself, check out this “study” for a laugh—then back to work!

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Entry filed under: HR Management. Tags: , , , .

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