According to researchers from Kansas State University, between 60 and 80 percent of employees’ time on the Internet at work actually has nothing to do with work. This cyberloafing results in lost productivity and could even land companies in legal hot water if the online behavior is illegal or unacceptable (think porn on work computers).
Corporate policies aimed at preventing cyberloafing, however, may not be enough on their own. Joseph Ugrin, assistant professor of accounting at Kansas State University, and John Pearson, associate professor of management at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, found that sanctions with policies must be consistently enforced for policies to be effective.
Companies can spend significant time, money and effort trying to monitor computer usage, detect what employees are doing online and write policies for employees on acceptable Internet behavior. Threats of termination and detection mechanisms are effective deterrents against activities such as viewing pornography, managing personal finances and personal shopping, according to the study, but these tactics may not be enough to combat cyberloafing in general. Employers must back up their policies with enforcement to discourage activities like excessive personal emailing and social networking.
Even then, generational differences in how employees use and view the Internet may complicate matters. Researchers found, for example, that older workers typically spend time online at work managing their finances, while younger employees seemed to consider it acceptable to spend work time on social media sites.
"We found that that for young people, it was hard to get them to think that social networking was unacceptable behavior," Ugrin said. "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."
The researchers discovered that the only way to change people's attitudes is to provide them with information about other employees who were reprimanded. But employers should still proceed with caution, Ugrin warned, because this strategy can have negative consequences in the workplace and can lower morale.
"People will feel like Big Brother is watching them, so companies need to be careful when taking those types of action," he said.
The study will be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.