Management for the masses: Should you have an Internet usage policy?

Indiana University Kelley School of Business  8.31.10While there are many ways for employees to avoid work, one of the most difficult to manage is “cyberloafing.” Defined as an employee’s use of their work Internet connection for personal activities such as surfing non-job-related websites, using personal social media accounts, or even handling personal e-mail, cyberloafing can take a toll on workplace productivity. It is pervasive: the average American admits to wasting about two working hours each day, with personal Internet use being the primary distraction.

So what can you do to effectively manage cyberloafing? A recent study suggests two things that can reduce this practice: providing employees with meaningful work, and having an explicit policy prohibiting personal use of the Internet on company time and property.

Meaningful work consists of tasks that an employee views as significant and important to the organization. If a worker sees his/her day-to-day activities as central to the company’s mission and objectives, and uses valuable skills and abilities to complete those tasks, they experience meaningful work. In this study, after controlling for workers’ demographic and personality characteristics, the researchers discovered that employees who viewed their work as meaningful were less likely to cyberloaf.

Similarly, after controlling for personal factors, employees engaged in less personal use of the Internet when their company had an explicit policy prohibiting it. One caveat here: the policy needs to be clearly understood by all affected employees. They need to know as precisely as possible what behaviors are appropriate. For example, a policy might allow employees to check their personal e-mail accounts once or twice a day, but expressly prohibit use of social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter for non-business-related purposes.

Cyberloafing is a relatively new phenomenon, but as more workers rely on the Internet to do their work, it becomes more pervasive. While prohibitive policies are one way to thwart this practice, a more positive approach is to ensure that all employees understand the importance of their work and their skill set to the organization’s goals. When work is meaningful, employees are more engaged in it. This principle holds true in both the “bricks and mortar” world and in cyberspace.

Jia, H., Jia, R., & Karau, S. (2013). Cyberloafing and Personality: The Impact of the Big Five Traits and Workplace Situational Factors.  Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 20, 358-365.