News

Freedom to surf: workers more productive if allowed to use the internet for leisure

Media Release, Thursday 2 April 2009

Surfing the net at work for pleasure actually increases our concentration levels and helps make a more productive workforce, according to a new University of Melbourne study.

Dr Brent Coker, from the Department of Management and Marketing, says that workers who engage in ‘Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing’ (WILB) are more productive than those who don’t.

“People who do surf the Internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office - are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t,” he says.

“Firms spend millions on software to block their employees from watching videos on YouTube, using social networking sites like Facebook or shopping online under the pretense that it costs millions in lost productivity, however that’s not always the case.”

According to the study of 300 workers, 70% of people who use the Internet at work engage in WILB. Among the most popular WILB activities are searching for information about products, reading online news sites. Playing online games was the fifth most popular, while watching YouTube movies was seventh.

The attraction of WILB, according to Dr Coker, can be attributed to people’s imperfect concentration. “People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration. Think back to when you were in class listening to a lecture – after about 20 minutes your concentration probably went right down, yet after a break your concentration was restored.

“It’s the same in the work place. Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days work, and as a result, increased productivity.”

However Dr Coker says that it is important such browsing is done in moderation, as internet addiction can have the reverse effect. “Approximately 14% of internet users in Australia show signs of Internet Addiction – they don’t take breaks at appropriate times, they spend more than a ‘normal’ amount of time online, and can get irritable if they are interrupted while surfing.”

“WILB is not as helpful for this group of people - those who behave with internet addiction tendencies will have a lower productivity than those without.”

Multimedia Available:
Broadcast quality footage (approx 500mb+) of Dr Brent Coker talking about the study is available from our FTP server: media.marcom.unimelb.edu.au/pub/newsroom/Coker/cokerb_mr_20090401.mov Please note, an FTP client is recommended to download this footage.

An audio (MP3) file of this interview is also available for download: media.marcom.unimelb.edu.au/pub/newsroom/Coker/cokerb_mr_20090401.mp3

More information about this article:

David Scott
Media Promotions Officer (Scholarships)
dascott@unimelb.edu.au
Tel: +61 3 8344 0561
Mob: 0409 024 230

Dr Brent Coker
Dept of Management and Marketing:
T) 83441933
E) bcoker@unimelb.edu.au

See also Online Experts Guide

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