Good news for web surfing junkies. And their bosses. New research has revealed that workers who surf the net on their lunch break are likely to be more productive in the afternoon than peers who rested away from their computer screens.
The study, “Impact of Cyberloafing on Psychological Engagement,” by Don J.Q. Chen and Vivien K.G Lim of the National University of Singapore, was presented last week in San Antonio, Texas, at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management.
Rachel Emma Silverman of The Wall Street Journal, who interviewed the research authors, spelled how the researchers came to their findings. They conducted two studies. In the first, they assigned 96 undergraduate management students into one of three groups – a control group, a ‘rest-break’ group and a web-surfing group. All subjects spent 20 minutes highlighting as many letter e’s as they could find in a sample text. For the next 10 minutes, the control group was assigned another simple task; members of the rest-break group could do whatever they pleased, except surf the Internet; and the third group could browse the web. Afterward, all of the subjects spent another 10 minutes highlighting e’s. The researchers found that the web-surfers were significantly more productive and effective at the tasks than those in the other two groups and also reported lower levels of mental exhaustion, boredom and higher levels of engagement.
When browsing the internet, people “usually choose to visit only the sites that they like – it’s like going for a coffee or snack break. Breaks of such nature are pleasurable, rejuvenating the web surfer,” researcher Dr. Lim told Silverman in an email.
- No need to feel guilty for work web browsing. “Don’t feel guilty about browsing the Internet at work – turns out it may actually improve your performance,” reassured Silverman of The Wall Street Journal, who said the study revealed that web browsing “can actually refresh” tired workers and enhance their productivity, compared to other activities such as making personal calls, texts or emails, let alone working straight through with no rest at all. Silverman noted that reading personal email is nowhere as refreshing as browsing because replying to emails takes care and attention and people can’t control the emails they receive.
- Gawker: Read us, not Perez! Somewhat predictably, snarky online news site Gawker, just the sort of site lunch-breakers flock to, warmly welcomed the findings: “All Americans spend 90% of their time at work screwing around on the internet. This is why America’s so great! According to science, browsing the internet for fun makes you a better worker,” enthused Adrien Chen. “But if you’re reading Perez Hilton it boosts productivity in a different way: By instilling in the reader a dark horror that can only be sated by a frenzy of work,” warned Gawker.
- Internet: Digital water cooler. “Go ahead and watch that funny cat video your co-worker sent. Chances are you’ll both be more productive afterward,” beamed Jared Newman at Time magazine’s Techland blog. “Like taking a break for coffee or a snack, using the Internet is a pleasurable experience,” purred Newman, “whereas checking e-mail or making a phone call can be mentally taxing. In other words, the Internet acts like a digital water cooler.” Despite his overall enthusiasm, Newman acknowledged the pitfalls of web surfing: “The problem, of course, is getting people to restrict their Internet use to small, controlled breaks. If you’re like me, your eyes probably wander over to Twitter or Facebook far too often to advocate the web as a fountain of productivity.”
- Or is it a wasteful time suck? “But don’t rejoice just yet by clicking over to check your Facebook account for the third time this morning,” warned Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic Wire, “because for every study that finds the benefits of surfing the Web there’s another that says it’s a wasteful time suck.” Greenfield acknowledged that the mini break proponents (who promote pleasurable breaks to reset the brain during the working day) do make some sense but flagged up previous reports which have indicated that leisure time is costing companies dear.
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