Mindless Web Surfing Makes You More Productive

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Here’s some ammunition for the next time your boss catches you scrolling through your favorite Cute Puppy Tumblr: a new study suggests that mindless Web surfing at work actually makes employees more productive.

According to report to be presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, browsing the Internet serves a restorative function, enhancing a employee’s psychological engagement with his or her work and also possibly stimulating job creativity.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore drew this conclusion after conducting two separate studies. One assigned 96 undergraduate management students into three groups who were all asked to complete the same two tasks. In between the tasks, one group was given busy work, one group was allowed to do anything they wanted except surf the Internet and one group was allowed to browse pre-selected websites offering news, social networking, online gaming, entertainment and hobby-related activities.

Researchers ultimately discovered participants in the Internet-browsing group were significantly more productive in both tasks than those in the other two groups. In fact, they were 16% more productive than the group allowed to do anything but surf the web and 39% more productive than the group given busy work.

In the second study, randomly selected alumni of a business school were surveyed by mail about their activities at work. The questions specifically addressed the amount of Internet browsing and emailing they did, their psychological engagement with their work and their positive and negative mental state immediately after some mindless surfing. 

The survey results indicated that Internet browsing was significantly associated with upbeat mental states such as “excited,” “interested,” “alert” and “active,” and inversely related to such negative mental states as “distressed,” “fearful,” “hostile,” and “jittery.”

However, there was one notable exception. Answering personal email while on the job was discovered to actually impair a person’s work.

“Personal e-mailing puts employees in a double bind," authors Don J. Q. Chen and Vivien K. G. Lim of the National University of Singapore write in the report. "First, the compelling need to reply to a received e-mail impedes employees' psychological engagement by affecting their ability to concentrate. Second, when employees reply to these e-mails, they experience resource depletion, negative affect and workflow disruption."

Researchers said the study indicates employers should shy away from stringent policies regarding non-sanctioned Internet use at work, as excessive monitoring can actually lead to an increase in the frequency of non-work-related browsing.

“In light of this study, an acceptable Internet use policy would allow for periodic Web browsing while limiting the access to personal e-mails, " Chen and Lim concluded.

What non-work-sanctioned websites are favorites amongst employees? Find out in MainStreet’s roundup of nine ways to waste time be more productive at work!

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