Kitten meets Hedgehog. (Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
A new study has shown that the willpower required to resist using the internet for personal use at work has a detrimental effect on workplace productivity.
One of the biggest drains on workplace productivity, according to Salary.com, is personal internet use. The majority — that is, 61 per cent — of workers spend more than an hour a week checking personal emails, using Facebook, watching funny videos and shopping.
To counter this, many workplaces have hard-and-fast rules about not surfing the web, to the point of blocking any websites that may take an employee's attention away from their work. But this may not be the best approach to take.
A new study, called "Temptation at Work" by Alessandro Bucciol at the University of Verona, Italy, Daniel Houser at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, US, and Marco Piovesan at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, reveals the possibility that resisting that temptation takes so much will power that productivity decreases.
One reason that resisting temptations can have adverse impact on subsequent performance is that using willpower consumes an individual's energy. Once this energy is depleted, willpower can become more difficult to exercise, which in turn, can have detrimental impact on one's ability to delay gratification.
The study examined 60 individuals across three phases. In the first phase, the subjects performed three counting tasks. In the second phase, they had the option to watch a funny video. In the third phase, they performed 10 more counting tasks.
The second phase was the one where the subjects were split into two groups. In the first group, the video played automatically. In the second group, a large red button appeared on the screen labelled "Video", but the subjects could hear the video playing as the first group were already watching it. This group was told that they should not press the button; if they did, a pop-up appeared reminding them of this fact, which meant that they had to press the button again in order to see it. Pressing the button twice classified that subject as overwhelmed by temptation and excluded from the analysis; only one subject did so.
In the third phase, those subjects who had had to resist watching the video showed a significant decline in accuracy, making as many as three times the mistakes as the group on auto-play.
This backs up the 2011 report "Impact of Cyberloafing on Psychological Engagement" by Don JQ Chen and Vivien KG Lim of the National University of Singapore, which found that taking breaks to mooch about on the web refreshes and relaxes a worker's brain, allowing them to be more alert and engaged.
Now if you'll excuse us, we have some.