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Internet Breaks in the Workplace: Help or Hindrance?



By Stacey Ross

A recent study by Harvard Business School researchers revealed that by trying to resist temptation, employees can become distracted enough that their work actually suffers. The findings do not discount studies that debunk the myth of multitasking, rather they confirm people's tendency to be more effective in the workplace if they are not forced to abstain from other, non-work related activity.

In their paper Temptation at Work, the researchers describe an experiment where individual workers could either watch or resist watching a humorous 10-minute video. They found that the individuals who watched the video were more productive than those who didn’t, indicating that productivity in the workplace is enhanced when private Internet use is permitted.

Likewise, the research concludes that a "brain reset" helps employees get through the day, while being forced to resist the urge to go online negatively impacts their work. The findings have wide-ranging implications for employers:

"Employers should not prohibit the Internet and yet leave it available. Instead, employers should either remove it entirely or, when doing this is impractical, allow employees a certain amount of time – maybe even as often as several minutes per hour – for personal Internet activity. Perhaps lunch-breaks can be somewhat shortened to accommodate “surf-time”. Alternatively, employers might consider allowing regular Internet breaks, in the same way that many currently accommodate short but not infrequent cigarette or coffee breaks."

Clearly, some people get carried away and can become too distracted at work, and wasting time in the workplace can have negative results for both for the employee and for the employer. It is not uncommon for some individuals to compulsively check their social networking updates – another reason for employers to monitor employee Internet use or encourage Web surfing to be reserved for break time only.

What say you? Is the workplace kowtowing to a less disciplined mindset and indulging digital natives who lack willpower? Or is this shift encouraging creative thinking and greater productivity?

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.



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