The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Cyber Loafing

Blog / The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Cyber Loafing

Acceptable Use Policies, or AUPs, typically try to address two specific elements of employee behaviour: dangerous practices and productivity. The security risks of employees browsing dangerous and unacceptable sites on company computers are clear. However, when it comes to the productivity side of things, things aren’t nearly as clear cut. There’s sometimes conflicting information from different sources about how tight policies should be or how intrusive monitoring should be. What’s more, there’s good evidence that shows allowing at least limited personal use, sometimes called cyber loafing, can actually be good for productivity.

So we decided to breakdown the pros and cons of cyber loafing so you don’t have to. Having a better understanding can help inform your AUP for a more enjoyable and productive workspace.

The Good

Cyber loafing is almost always viewed as not just unproductive but downright wasteful by employers. However, did you know there’s evidence demonstrating it can actually improve productivity? Researchers from the University of Melbourne argue that limited cyber loafing can help employees reset and recharge throughout the day, provided it doesn’t exceed 12% of their work day. That number is pretty specific and each employer/employee situation is going to be different. The point remains that short bouts of cyber loafing can actually improve employee productivity. It also encourages creativity and innovation.

There’s also a significant cultural component as well. Put bluntly, businesses that ban personal use entirely are going to have a bad time with it. It destroys company morale, irritates employees, and ultimately leads to lost productivity and talent retention issues. On the other hand, letting employees pay that bill they forgot was due and get it off their mind can help them focus better. Allowing reasonable personal use also helps build trust between workers and their employers. Happier workplaces are almost always more productive workplaces.

The Bad

Let’s be clear, cyber loafing is only a boost to productivity if its use is limited and helps employees reenergize. Endless scrolling does not fit that bill, and striking the right balance can be difficult. Remember, that 12% limit is the result of aggregate data from researchers. What degree of loafing is beneficial and what is problematic will change from person to person. That means it’s virtually impossible to perfectly calibrate personal use rules according to each unique situation.

Tolerating cyber loafing can also mean tolerating another inevitability of modern office life, task switching. But the negative impact of task switching on productivity can also be substantial. This makes it even more important that personal use only be tolerated to the extent that it serves to invigorate employees and enhance your corporate culture.

Furthermore, there are some other potential productivity drawbacks that employers may not initially think of. Unchecked cyber loafers can wind up clogging your internet bandwidth if they’re streaming video or downloading large files.

The Ugly

Let’s be clear, lost productivity is the main drawback cyber loafing, but it’s by no means the most dangerous. That extra boost in productivity by allowing limited personal use can be extremely dangerous if the rules aren’t clear (and it’s the reason we wanted to write about AUPs in the first place). Employees engaged in personal use on company devices rarely recognize it, but their cyber loafing can lead to security problems, liability issues, malware infections, and identity theft.

The digital revolution of the late 1900s was a boon to employee productivity as computers took over almost every aspect of the office work life (to say nothing about their impact on our personal lives). Of course, as with all disruptive technologies, it came with a downside that made slacking at work easier than ever. Fortunately the digital revolution is old enough now that long-term research into its effects on productivity is reliable, but difficult to implement. Nevertheless, it’s clear that although serious cyber loafing is a poison to productivity, employers may want to turn a blind eye to the occasional bout of Facebooking in the office.

Finally, I’m sure more than a handful of you are wondering about the 12% figure, and how you can monitor that number in their work environment. While there is technology that can monitor traffic on your local network and internet connection, it may not be appropriate to do so. It can lead to mistrust and, if abused, open you up to a harassment complaint.  As for monitoring internet activity of employees working from home, that’s probably a path most employers don’t want to go down.

If you’d like expert input on how to craft an Acceptable Use Policy that can protect your business while maintaining a friendly and productive work environment, contact your TRINUS account manager today.




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