A few weeks ago we launched a brief survey on cyber-slacking -- some of you may have taken part (if not, you can still participate and get instant feedback). Our main goal was to assess the relationship between cyber-slacking and employee engagement. The rationale was quite simple: if people are bored at work, could the internet help them cope with boredom? In the advent of Facebook-mania, are social networking sites injecting some excitement into otherwise boring 9-5 shifts? Here's a quick peek at our preliminary results and what they imply.
What people do: There are no sex differences in cyber-slacking, with the average male employee as likely to waste time online as the average female. On average, our respondents reported spending 1 hour and 44 minutes per day cyber-slacking! This amounts to almost 25% of paid employment time wasted on job-irrelevant activities -- Economists will be quick to translate this into economic costs at National level. Likewise, when we asked participants how much time their colleagues wasted cyber-slacking, the average time estimated per day was 1 hour and 55 minutes (this is in line with a well-known effect found in counter-productive work research, where people would always admit to doing something they shouldn't, but also estimate that their colleagues are even worse at it). Unsurprisingly, Facebook was the preferred site for cyber-slacking, with an average 35 minutes per day spent per person on average -- and women spending slightly more time on Facebook than do men. The second most popular site was Twitter (15 minutes per day), preferred slightly by men. Other popular sites were Youtube and LinkedIn (10 and 5min, respectively). There were predictable age differences in preferred sites, with younger people (20 or so) spending more time on Facebook and Youtube, and older people (30+) spending more time on LinkedIN.
What employers do: A great deal of businesses reported they were either blocking or considering blocking sites, especially Facebook. Against this, most employees -- especially those who saw themselves as cyber-slackers -- were opposed to this idea. This suggests that employers see the internet as a serious problem, blaming it for unproductive or counter-productive work behaviours; indeed, employers feel that if people were unable to waste time online they would have no choice but to do their job properly. Employers see the internet as a major distraction, but they fail to provide more interesting alternatives than the internet. If checking someone's Facebook update is more important than doing your job, then your job can't be very important.
What employers should know: The most interesting result of our study is the positive link between cyber-slacking and employee engagement. Indeed, the two were positively and significantly correlated, suggesting that cyber-slacking increases satisfaction at work. Given that engagement is the buzzword of human performance (more engaged employees perform better, are less likely to quit, and have a positive effect on their colleagues), this presents a real paradox for manegers: boredom at work leads to cyber-slacking, but cyber-slacking leads to higher engagement, which, in turn, improves job performance. What this suggests is that banning internet sites at work will most certainly backfire: people will still be bored, but they will also be annoyed, and quit (or behave badly).
So, the moral of the story is: If you can't keep your workforce busy, let them cyber-slack. If you can't keep employees entertained, let them entertain themselves.
In the era of meaningful jobs, most employees see their work as a necessary distraction from Facebook.