Study: 'Leisure browsing' increases productivity

Slackers, take heart--a survey out of Australia says that "Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing" makes workers more productive.

Updated at the end with response to some reader comments

Here's some good news that you should forward to your boss.

A study conducted in Australia found that people who engage in "Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing" (WILB) are more productive than those who don't. Workers who "surf the Internet for fun at work--within a reasonable limit of less than 20 percent of their total time in the office--are more productive by about 9 percent,"* according to the study's author, Professor Brent Coker, from the University of Melbourne's Department of Management and Marketing.

Professor Brent Coker University of Melbourne

The reason that "WILB" increases productivity, he said, is that "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."

A short break, such as surfing the Internet, "enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day's work, and as a result, increased productivity."

But this doesn't apply to everyone. Approximately 14 percent of the sample showed signs of Internet addiction and, for them, Web surfing can decrease productivity. The more they surfed at work, the less productive they were. The reason for this, he said, "is because of an 'urge' to search the Internet. "Those that aren't addicted, don't have this urge and they surf the Internet as a reward."

The study found that 70% of the 300 workers surveyed engage in "WILB." The report was released in Melbourne on April 2nd when it was still April 1st in the United States. In an email, Dr. Coker assured me that it's not an April fools joke.

I'm not sure whether the result of this Australian study applies to workers in the U.S. and other countries, but I for one have a vested interest in believing what he says. If nothing else, it's a great excuse, especially if your boss is giving you a hard time for "WILB."

*A postscript based on reader comments:

Some people have wisely questioned the researcher's math. In an exact quote from the study's author, I point out that workers who "surf the Internet for fun at work--within a reasonable limit of less than 20 percent of their total time in the office--are more productive by about 9 percent." What isn't clear is whether or not there is 9% productivity gain after accounting for up to 20% fewer hours of work. I emailed the study's author with that question and will file an update when I receive an answer.

Need even more justification to slack off? Click below to hear about it in Dr. Coker's own voice.

Podcast

About the author

Larry Magid is a technology journalist and an Internet safety advocate. He's been writing and speaking about Internet safety since he wrote Internet safety guide "Child Safety on the Information Highway" in 1994. He is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, founder of SafeKids.com and SafeTeens.com, and a board member of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Larry's technology analysis and commentary can be heard on CBS News and CBS affiliates, and read on CBSNews.com. He also writes a personal-tech column for the San Jose Mercury News. You can e-mail Larry.

 

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