Are you wasting your employer's money every time you check Facebook, browse MNN, watch a YouTube video or laugh at a LOLcat?
According to the employment industry, so-called cyberslacking — surfing the Web while you should be working — is a huge, multibillion-dollar problem. A survey conducted in 2012 by Salary.com found that every day, at least 64 percent of employees visit websites that have nothing to do with their work. While most people only admitted to doing this for about an hour per week, it adds up. Supposedly, social media alone costs U.S. employers $650 billion every year in lost productivity. That's $4,452 per employee, according to an infographic published by Mashable and Learn Stuff.
It's not just the Web surfing, according to experts. It's the transition between tasks. If you take a few minutes to check Facebook, it might take you twice as long to get back into your work, they say.
But how much of this is really true? Do you really cost your employer more than $4,000 every year just by tweeting and checking last night's sports scores? Does every hour "wasted" online really directly affect a business's bottom line?
Probably not. As Laura Vanderkam, author of "All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending," wrote in 2012 for CBS's Moneywatch, "no one can get through a whole workday without taking a break. A little cyberloafing amounts to blowing off steam. If people weren't checking Twitter, they might be out smoking" or hanging out in the cafeteria or running errands or making person phone calls.
Coping with workplace boredom
While your boss may be worried that your cyberloafing habit is affecting your workplace productivity, it actually doesn't. A 2018 survey shows that cyberloafing isn't a means to slack off on work but actually helps employees who are bored.
The survey asked 463 employees at a university in the U.S. how often they cyberloafed, how much they were bored and their workload. Their findings showed that employees who are bored and have a small workload tend to cyberloaf the most.
"Underload was not correlated with counterproductive work behavior, and the boredom-cyberloafing relationship was significantly stronger than the boredom- counterproductive work behaviour relationship," the study stated.
Science backs this up
A 2009 study by a Ph.D. student at Massey University found that employees who felt they could surf the Web here and there without getting yelled at were happier. Not only did it alleviate boredom, it also showed them that their boss would be more open to flex time, working from home or other options. The ability to shop online or do banking tasks from work also made workers less resentful of their employers, since they could complete those tasks more easily from their desks during the work day than running around during the lunch hour or after work.
Another study, conducted in 2011 by researchers at the National University of Singapore, backs this up. That study found that mindlessly surfing the Web refreshed workers and made them more productive, even more than chatting with friends or co-workers did. The Web surfing provided what the researchers characterized as "an instant recovery" and gave them the energy to get back to work. "When you're stressed at work and feel frustrated, go cyberloaf," said researcher Don J.Q. Chen. "Go on the 'Net. After your break, you come back to work refreshed."
A 2012 study out of Hiroshima University in Japan, published in the journal PLoS One, found that looking at cute pictures of baby animals actually served to increase concentration. Full-grown animals didn't do the trick: the cuter the animals in the photos, the better the test subjects fared at tests that required concentration and focus. The researchers write that in the future "cute objects may be used as an emotion elicitor to induce careful behavioral tendencies in specific situations, such as driving and office work."
Are employers listening to any of these studies? Maybe. The Salary.com survey suggests rebranding the phrase "wasting time" and just making sure that employees can take short breaks. In the process, they may just increase their productivity.
That's good news. I think I'll go share it on Facebook.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in November 2012.