Surfing for Success

Morgan O'Rourke


October 1, 2011

Web surfing isn't just for slackers anymore. It may actually improve job performance, according to a National University of Singapore study entitled "Impact of Cyberloafing on Psychological Engagement."

Researchers Don Chen and Vivien Lim gave three groups the arbitrary task of highlighting all the letter Es in a sample text for 20 minutes. The first group was then assigned another task. The second group was allowed to take a break and do anything except browse the internet. The last group could surf the web. After 10 minutes, they went back to highlighting letters. Researchers found that the web surfers were more productive and engaged after their break than the other groups, leading the authors to conclude that "browsing the internet serves an important restorative function."

But not all web-related activity is created equal. Checking and responding to personal email was found to be detrimental to employee effectiveness. Nevertheless, Chen and Lim do not advise companies to monitor or restrict employees' web access.

"Rather than reducing cyberloafing, excessive monitoring increases its frequency, as employees invariably view such policies as a form of mistrust," they said. "Instead, limited amount of personal web use should be allowed, since it has salubrious impact on employees' productivity."

Morgan O’Rourke is editor in chief of Risk Management and director of publications for the Risk & Insurance Management Society, Inc. (RIMS)