'Cyberloafing' research measures the wrong thing

Peter Thomson's picture

A research report from Kansas State University and Southern Illinois University has just been published showing that American employees spend as much as 80 percent of their work time on the Internet “cyberloafing”, doing tasks that have nothing to do with their work. The report's authors believe that this results in lost productivity, so they recommend that companies tighten up their rules on the use of the Internet and point out the consequences of non-compliance.

However, the researchers then admit that this does not work well. According to one of them “We found that for young people, it was hard to get them to think that social networking was unacceptable behavior. 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."

Measuring how people spend their time might be interesting research but what really matters is how much work gets done. This is measured by output not by hours. As we point out in the book, if people are given clear goals and allowed autonomy in how they acheieve them, then they will respond productively. How they spend their time is their own decision. If they choose to spend hours on the Internet engaged in non-work activities that's their choice. As long as they get the job done well, then why should it matter?

We found that organisations that trust and empower employees are much more likely to get them to put in the extra discretionary effort to get their job done well. Controlling them with rules about how they spend their time just results in disengaged employees doing the minimum possible. Or, as in the case of the people studied in this research, they ignore the rules anyway.

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