Goofing Around Online At Work Can Make You More Productive

There’s no hiding the fact that most of you reading this post are doing so while getting paid to be doing anything other than reading this post. But now you have science to back you up when your boss takes a break from Facebook and catches you surfing the web. A new study claims that browsing the Internet while sitting at your office desk may actually be beneficial to your job performance.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Don J.Q. Chen and Vivien K.G Lim of the National University of Singapore have conducted research which suggests workers who surf the Web during work breaks may actually become more refreshed than if they goofed off with traditional fare such as making personal calls or answering e-mail.

The study, Impact of Cyberloafing on Psychological Engagement, composed of two similar study groups. In each group, participants were divided into three smaller groups but given the same simple, 20 minute task: highlight as many letter e’s as possible in a sample piece of text. Each group was then assigned a different task for the next 10 minutes—either complete another simple task, surf the Web, or do anything else (but browse the Internet). Afterward, all three groups were then told to highlight e’s for another 10 minutes.

The result: Web surfers were significantly more productive and effective at tasks than those in the other two groups. Lower levels of mental exhaustion and boredom but higher levels of engagement were also reported.

Why is browsing the Web more relaxing? Dr. Lim told the Wall Street Journal in an e-mail:

[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…

But there are limits, say the researchers. E-mail, for one, can be counter-productive because reading messages is “cognitively more demanding, relative to Web surfing, as you need to pay attention to what is said on the email” wrote Dr. Lim.

The scientists’ study and findings were presented last week at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, an association of management scholars, in San Antonio, Texas.

So next time, tell your boss: I’m not goofing off. I’m making myself more productive for your next mind-numbing task.

Web Surfing Helps at Work, Study Says [Wall Street Journal]
Internet browsing at work? It’s a pause that refreshes workers and enhances their productivity, new research finds [Academy of Management press release]