For some of us, it's our job to browse the Internet. For everyone else, browsing the Internet means money wasted in decreased productivity. One survey found that Internet use is the number one time waster at work. Another estimate finds that companies in the United States lose more than $6,000 per employee per year from non-work related Internet browsing. But as tempting as it might be for bosses and organizations to ban employees from using the Internet, banning Internet use during work hours might not be the best office policy.
That's because delaying gratification by not allowing workers to watch a funny video, for example, until after work might actually make workers less productive than if they were to watch that video that everyone is passing around.
In a new study published in Plos One, researchers at George Mason University, the University of Copenhagen, and University of Verona came to this conclusion after observing test subjects perform a series of tasks. In the first phase subjects were asked to perform three counting tasks and were paid a small amount of money depending on how accurate they were. In the second phase, half of the participants are allowed to watch a funny video that was 10 minutes long and the other half looked at a screen with a video button and only heard noise from the video and was told to not click the video button. In phase three, both groups performed 10 more counting tasks of varying complexity.
The results? The group that wasn't allowed to watch the video made significantly larger mistakes on the counting tasks than the group that was allowed to watch the video. Why? Social psychology, as the study explains:
"[W]illpower depletion resulting from resisting the temptation to watch the video may have made concentration on a subsequent labor productivity task more difficult. Alternatively, watching the video may have promoted resource replenishment, enabling higher levels of concentration on the subsequent task."
So what are employers to do? The researchers suggest either getting rid of the Internet completely. Or, since that's impractical in many cases, allowing employees to have personal time for using the Internet "as often as several minutes per hour." Considering we also know that it takes office workers several minutes to get back on task after they've been distracted, it's certainly something for employers to consider.