There are ways to reduce the growing menace at work – cyberloafing – other than relying solely on the employees’ self-control.
I was alone at home on a Saturday morning. Free from distractions, I set out to complete some long-pending office work. After spending a focussed hour, I decided to take a 5 minutes break and logged on to Facebook! What happened to the break after that, is anybody’s guess. A friend had posted a story on ‘Paradox of Court’. I found it interesting and read the complete piece. Then I started looking at other interesting paradoxes provided as links. Before I realised, my five-minute break extended to 30 minutes! I hastily got back to work feeling guilty about losing precious time on mindless cyber surfing.
Were inputs on different paradoxes useful? I may refer to them sometime in future. Were they needed at that moment? Absolutely not. Was it distracting? Surely yes!
Cyberloafing refers to web surfing for activities not associated with work. It is a much debated topic today.
Some studies indicate that cyberloafing reduces individual as well as organisational productivity leading to loss of millions of dollars. While another set of studies indicate that 5 to 10 minutes of cyberloafing in between a tedious schedule can actually improve the productivity of employees by 9 per cent to 16 per cent.
However, the catch here is the duration. Only cyberloafing for short spurts of five to ten minutes can be considered a break. It’s about self-control which people may or may not be able to exercise all the time. Lack of self-control can convert a short productive break into unproductive cyberloafing. That is how the need to help people stay away from cyberloafing arises.
Unfortunately, controls do not help much. Several organisations block social networking sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter—as much for technical reasons as for curbing cyberloafing. However, smart phones have made this impossible. People can surf whatever they want, whenever and wherever!
Therefore, unproductive cyberloafing remains a concern for organisations and managers. Is there a way to control it, other than relying on the self-control of employees? Let us look at a few options:
1. Provide stimulating work – How often do we look for diversion while working on an interesting piece of work? Surely, not often. When work is stimulating, the need for cyberloafing tends to reduce. Though some amount of repetitive or boring work is unavoidable, managers should take care not to overload employees with it.
2. Keep the meetings focussed and invite only relevant people – Meetings have the potential to become a cyberloafing lounge if the discussions digress often and not everyone in the room is really required to be present.
3. Reduce undesirable work stress – Role ambiguity and role conflict lead to work stress (Katz & Kahn, 1966), especially for junior-level employees. Lack of role expectations, unclear goals and inadequately defined responsibility and authority lead to role ambiguity. Role conflict includes contradictory demands from different people (example: matrix reporting relationship). Ambiguity and conflict lead to work stress. This, in turn may, lead to cyberloafing by the employees as a stress buster.
4. Increase the feeling of perceived fairness – employees are less guilty wasting time cyberloafing when they feel that either the organisation or the manager has been unfair to them. Perceived fairness can be related to rewards, assignments, promotion or any other aspect of a job valued by the employees.
(The author is senior director and head, learning and talent development, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories.)