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Up to 80 percent of time spent online at work is ‘wasted,’ according to study

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

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Nearly 80 percent of work hours spent online are wasted on "cyberloafing" (AFP)

Odds are, you’re reading this article when you’re supposed to be working.

A new study from Kansas State University suggests that we spend even more time than previously thought aimlessly browsing the Internet during our office hours.

“Cyberloafing” — wasting time at work online — takes up as much as 80 percent of the time people spend online at work, according to the data collected by Joseph Urgin, an assistant professor at Kansas State, and John Pearson, an associate professor at Southern Illinois University.

The results were published in the latest issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Their results also suggest that traditional work guidelines surrounding Internet use are not enough to police worker behavior, and that if companies really want to scale back the amount of time their employees spend surfing the Web, they must “consistently enforce” sanctions to uphold their cyberloafing policies.

"We found 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."

Then again, not necessarily all "cyberloafing" can be measured as a net loss for businesses. A 2011 study found that in certain fields, when people spend time casually browsing the Web at work, they actually end up being more productive and creative.

The risks for employers go beyond lost productivity. Ugrin and Pearson point out that cyberloafing also poses legal risks for companies, if their employees are engaging in activities like viewing pornography or taking part in illegal transactions.

Ugrin and Pearson found that time-wasting was employed in nearly equal measure across different age groups but that generational differences were expressed in the various ways in which people specifically waste their time.

"Older people are doing things like managing their finances, while young people found it much more acceptable to spend time on social networking sites like Facebook," Ugrin said.

And while the study’s authors endorse tougher sanctions to enforce productivity and worker conduct, they say employers must maintain a healthy balance in order to not negatively affect office morale.

"People will feel like Big Brother is watching them, so companies need to be careful when taking those types of action," Ugrin said.

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