Can web surfing improve concentration?
Forget grabbing an espresso or hanging out at the water cooler: When it comes to taking a break at work, a new study suggests that if employees surf the Internet it can actually improve productivity. “Browsing the Internet serves a restorative function,” concludes the study, covered by The Wall Street Journal, entitled “The Impact of Cyberloafing on Psychological Engagement," which measured the behavior of hundreds of workers after they were allowed to surf the web for 10 minutes compared with engaging in other break-time activities. Web surfers, the study finds, were dramatically more engaged in their duties and reported lower levels of mental depletion and boredom.
“This finding makes perfect sense to me,” says Patricia Addesso, who teaches both business and psychology courses for the School of Business at the University of Phoenix San Diego Campus and is the author of “The Boss from Outer Space and Other Aliens at Work” (AMACON, 2007), “because we know from stress management studies that if you’re stuck on something, and you’re mentally drained from it, it’s best to switch to something entirely different, and then when you return to work, you’re actually more refreshed both mentally and physically.”
Workers who browse the Internet were found to be 17 to 39 percent more productive than their cohorts, who engaged in non-surfing activities. “We have learned from motivation theories in psychology that limiting employees’ freedom in any way can cause people to almost sabotage their work subconsciously,” explains Addesso. “If I feel like someone is telling me, ‘you can’t do this; you can’t do what you want,’ it’s akin to creating a childlike atmosphere, where the element of trust is missing."
But while a cyberloafing break may be just what the doctor ordered to improve workplace concentration, the study also finds that the same results do not hold true for reading personal email.
“Engaging in personal email at work sucks you into your real-life problems,” suggests Addesso. “You might be getting email from your kids or your spouse and that could be stressful. It opens up a can of worms and you’re reminded of all the stuff you have left undone. It’s too real.”
Given the findings, Addesso feels it’s important for bosses to respect individual work styles.
“In today’s economic environment, there’s a lot of rush for employees to just get things done,” she says. “So when a boss sees someone going online, they’re apt to say, ‘Hey! What are you doing goofing off? You’re lucky to have a job.’ But what they need to understand is that a break from the grind will actually allow that individual to come back more refreshed and more productive.”