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Web Surfing Boosts Productivity…

And Needlessly Worries Managers

I’ve been caught many times—and it’s a bad feeling. My throat tightens, my heart stops, and I begin to despair. “I’m going to get in trouble.” I think.

Then worry holds me hostage. “Maybe I’ll get fired.”

Getting caught surfing the internet at work isn’t fun, but according to a new study web browsing might not be that bad. In fact it may boost productivity.

Here’s how the study worked. Researches gave a group of people a banal job and gave them one ten minute break. Half the group was allowed to use the internet and the other half wasn’t.

When work resumed the workers who were allowed to use the internet ended up being more productive.

So the conclusion was drawn: a little Drudgereport breaks up the day and provides a bit of rest for the weary mind.

But that’s odd. Other reports suggest that web surfing costs businesses money. Your average worker with a computer spends about two hours a day using the internet for personal reasons. All that wasted time adds up and employers pay for it.

So what should a manager do? Ban the internet or let people enjoy their two hours of idle surfing?

I’d say don’t worry about it.

Banning web surfing will have technical costs—you’ll have to buy software that blocks all the fun sites. Second, when employers implicitly tell their employees to resist the temptation of browsing interesting sites and watching funny videos it distracts the mind as research shows. It creates an itch that can’t be scratched and that leads to lower productivity. Lastly, the internet saves time. By banning private internet use an employee won’t be able to buy a book on Amazon so they will be forced to visit the local bookshop. This takes up time and energy.

Unrestricted internet access isn’t the way to go either. Everyone can admit to days where a ten minute internet break turns into three hours of time wasted. Plus, the internet can become a crutch. Creative thinking is often replaced with “Googling it.” Research is often boiled down to surmising the findings of the top three sites Google produces in a search.

Managers need to trust their employees and monitor their results—not their computer habits. Everyone has different ways of breaking up the day and recharging their batteries. Banning internet breaks would be akin to prohibiting coffee runs or cigarette breaks. Sure, you’d keep people at their desks longer, but you’d only brew animosity.

Managers who spend their day sniffing around internet history logs are wasting their time. They’d be better off looking at the daily production of each employee and giving constant feedback.

Lecturing employees on internet usage will probably come off as hypocritical as well. The truth of the matter is, employees also catch their managers surfing the web.

It’s best to avoid the internet question and focus on the real results. Managers and leaders shouldn’t waste time worrying about internet habits–they should focus on monitoring real productivity and results.



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