Those Who Surf Facebook And YouTube At Work Are Often More Productive

from the this-again? dept

Way back in the late 90s, there was a spate of news stories worried about this awful web thing and how companies were making it available at work — and how that was obviously going to be a massive drain on productivity. Of course, this was falsely based on the idea that productivity means always working, rather than getting work done. All the way back in 2000, a study came out, noting that employees who did some personal surfing at work tended to be happier and more productive. There were a variety of reasons for this, including that being able to do some personal surfing allowed for useful “mental breaks” that made actual working time more productive. It also let people spend more time on the job (and, in fact, another study found that most employees who do personal surfing at work more than make it up) rather than having to leave work to deal with personal things.

Since all those studies came out in the earlier part of the decade, we had hoped that these issues had been put to rest. But… no, of course not. With new online services like Facebook and YouTube, suddenly companies started freaking out again — with hyped up claims from internet filtering companies (it always comes from internet filtering companies) about just how much productivity is lost via Facebook and YouTube. And, of course, they have a simple solution: buy our filter and block access to these sites.

And the fear mongering certainly works. Every time we mention any such story, we’re inundated with comments from people insisting that there is simply no reason why anyone should ever access Facebook from work. Well, yet another study suggests that’s incorrect again. As with the earlier studies, this one found that people who do a little personal surfing of sites like Facebook and YouTube at work, tend to be more productive.

The study found exactly what previous studies had found:

People who do surf the internet for fun at work – within a reasonable limit of less than 20 per cent of their total time in the office – are more productive by about nine per cent than those who don’t…. People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration. Think back to when you were in class listening to a lecture – after about 20 minutes your concentration probably went right down, yet after a break your concentration was restored.

It’s the same in the workplace.

Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day’s work, and as a result, increased productivity.

Now, of course, there are some people who will abuse the privilege — and there’s nothing wrong with finding out who’s doing that and dealing with them properly. But a flat-out blanket ban on such things may actually be reducing productivity for most workers, rather than increasing it. Rather than assuming such personal surfing decreases productivity, why not focus on just those who abuse the privilege.

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Comments on “Those Who Surf Facebook And YouTube At Work Are Often More Productive”

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R. Miles says:

Oooh... tempting.

Sorry, WH. Next time.

It’s amazing what a 5-10 minute internet break does. Clears the mind, which is definitely helpful to being productive.

But I see no problem with companies blocking sites too tempting for employees, which can easily take them out of the 5-10 minute break.

Facebook at work for personal use? I can see a justification for this.

YouTube? Blocked. Bandwidth issues alone is only part of the problem with this site.

But, like always, there’s going to be those 1 or 2 employees who ruin it for the rest of us. We don’t even get a block message, just an immediate redirection to our corporate intranet site.

A polite way of saying “Get back to work.”

PaulT (profile) says:

This shouldn’t be a surprise, really. Nobody can concentrate on a single task constantly, and even the most avid worker needs a short break now and again. In previous eras, this was achieved by wandering the halls with a piece of paper or chatting by the water cooler. Now, it’s achieved by checking your Facebook messages (or writing a comment on Techdirt!).

The question is not whether X minutes of time during the day is spent doing non-work related tasks. The question is the end result. In my experience, companies who keep a tight grip on everything their employees do and obsess over stats are the ones with less motivated, and thus less productive, employees.

Anonymous Coward says:

Stats are probably being evaluated wrong. Those people spending time online while still being productive are probably spending time online because they are so productive in the first place. For instance, I spend a percentage of my day reading news and so fourth online because it helps me relax and breaks up the day. There are other people who must stay focused 100% of the time or they can get nothing done. When all is said and done, I am more productive working 80% capacity as those people are working 100% of the time. The difference is either that I am actually equal to 120% of that persons ability (which I can believe) or I am simply more productive because I spend time doing something else. In my case at least, I think it is more to the fact I get my job done more efficiently, therefore, can spend more time online dinking around than some less efficient counterparts, where in, I am able to create my own personal reward system. Do well and get work done fast, read techdirt….. well, I might need to rethink the reward.

Anonymous Coward says:

haha that’s such propaganda BS. People that have time do surf the net for fun at work need better bosses and should get fired. Watch those stupid videos at home, not at work. It’s not the place for that. And if you have to do it, at least do it during non-paid time. And people wonder why big companies filter all that junk out…

Natalia says:

Re: Re:

Ridiculous. I surf the net at work during downtime. I meet ALL of my deadlines. I’ve been doing this for 6 years and magically manage. *gasp*

It’s people who slack off and don’t WANT to work that end up screwing off all day. I come to work, what needs to be done, gets done…and in a timely manner (I often finish work days BEFORE the deadline). So no harm. My boss doesn’t mind one bit.

Norfect says:

I am 100% with the idea of giving employees the freedom of taking breaks (and surfing) during the day, as long as work is done in due time.

In the place I work at, we give users 30 minutes/day to browse the internet (news, shopping,sports……) where they can use these 30 mins whenever they feel like it.

Yet as a security officer, we can not open sites such as facebook (or any website with 3rd party applications) to our users, due to the risks available from such access. Many security issues have been proven to be originated from malicious applications on applications, and this could be fatal for a company like ours.

What I’m trying to say is that factors other than productivity need to be considered here.

John Hamrick says:


Plain and simple, the “Information Age” has ushered in by far the largest single time wasting problem ever seen in the modern world. I have been a computer/internet consultant before there were PCs and the Internet, and what I’ve observed in the past 20 years is that the productivity gains we have achieved through technology have been severely squashed by the ability for millions of workers to waste millions of hours EVERY day by surfing, talking on cell phones, text messaging, shopping on ebay, making dinner reservations, checking flights, checking the weather, checking their kids reports cards, watching their kids at daycare on web cams, watching their DOGS at the kennel on web cams, creating electronic greeting cards, passing around chain letters on email, passing around recipes on email, writing their kids, writing their spouses, watching videos on YouTube, watching TV and movies that are streaming, listenting to Pandora, downloading images from their cameras, uploading the images to, googling old boyfriends, googling new boyfriends, googleing old girlfriends, googling new girlfriends, googling google, editing the school newspaper, editing resumes, looking for jobs, submitting resumes, talking to recruiters on their cellphones, listening to music on iPods, downloading songs to iPods, transferring data from iPods to IPhones, from Itunes to I…………

Then, if things were not bad enough, here comes Web 2.0. Now we spend hours each day passing around fake drinks, taking polls on which of our friends have slept with their parents friends, tweeting how r u?, adding friends deleting friends, tagging photos uploading photos, tweeting Obama, following gurus, getting spammed by social media consultants, hopping on the tweet deck, finding out that our receptionist is spending her Thursday evening changing diapers and needing a glass of wine…all in the name of the cause, because by golly if you aren’t participating in social media, you’ll get left behind.

With all of the power that technology has afforded us since the beginning of this era, it has also created an entire workforce that not only will tell you “I’m a 120%er so I certainly am entitled to my mind breaks on the Internet”, but for the most part, the workforce of today feels entitled to use this technology at any time, in any way they see fit.

We have turned into a society where you are sitting having a business meeting in your bosses office, and its perfectly fine for him to stare at his Blackberry, answer the phone, watch his computer monitor, and ignore you 8 times during a 15 minute meeting. After all, his “stuff” is way more important than your “stuff”, and it could be Donald Trump calling to sell him a skyscraper for $1.50.

We now think its perfectly fine to walk up to a clerk in a store having a conversation on a cell phone, and oh, in the past 2 days, I’ve had two clerks talking on phones while they rang up my purchases. What is wrong with us?

We know without a shred of doubt that the distractions that technology are presenting while driving are costing us lives every hour of every day, yet, because it saves time, its perfectly legal to drive down the road at 65 mph and fiddle with a GPS. It’s dandy to be able search for Mat Lambert on your iPod and text message on your smart phone. Smart? I don’t think so. We recently had an engineer texting on the job causing a disaster the left kids without parents, husbands without wives and Mothers without daughters. How can their not be a public outrage? Because we are all doing it, that’s why.

If you run a company, decide what web resources are required, and limit usage to those resources.

Remove any and all programs from personal computers that are not specifically geared to that employee for completing his/her tasks. PCs don’t need CD players, remove them. Yes, there are employees that need them, don’t get excited.

Your company policy should be that the computers are for work, period, there are no exceptions, and this is one strike you’re out.

Look into a totally controlled, centrally manged computer environment, perhaps a server based thin client environment would suite so that applications and system usage can be monitored, managed, updated, altered, etc. from a single point. This works.

If you have created a profitable and useful set of social networking tools that achieve results, then by all means keep Facebook up on your network, cell phones, iPods, CD burners, DVD burners, should all be banned from the workplace, period. The babysitter can call the office phone if the kid is sick.

Technology is NOT an entitlement, its a tool that should be used to get the job done. If you are so inclined set up a WiFi access point in your workplace that can be accessed by employees during their breaks, and using their own equipment AND time.

I say hogwash to those who proclaim that a surfing employee is a more productive employee. We need to get control of our companies back, and reversing this crazy trend is the beginning.

Boy, did that feel good.

John Hamrick says:

Re: To John Hamrick

Employees are my company’s and everyone else’s most valuable asset. When they are burning 20-30% of the company’s time on a daily basis, its serious. Employees generally like to be reeled in, and once they are made painfully aware that stealing time with technology is the same as stealing cash out of the till, things improve. The removal of the entitlement is the key.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Personal surfing at work

I normally agree with virtually everything you say. In fact, with the exception of my hero, Einstein, I find you to be more insightful than anyone I take heed of.
As a former top exec in several companies, though, I can tell you that here you are wrong.
Short term, almost anything (surfing, video games, etc.) help people be more productive. It is new, and they don’t abuse it. As they become more comfortable with it, it is abused, and eventually gets ridiculous – leading to the need to terminate people you really don’t want to let go!
What works is to set only the minimal rules you MUST set – to treat each new rule as a failure of management (not including rules required by law, etc., of course), and judge people only by results (which is incredibly difficult, but can be done). That way, surfing (or listening to sports events – amusing stories there – etc., are neither approved or disapproved. The emphasis is in supporting your coworkers by keeping a healthy company that can afford to be liberal on pay and benefits.
It may seem incredible, but one worker who abuses their position, or otherwise drags the company down, can be the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.
So, blanket rules that, to be ridiculous, “employees must wipe their noses”, etc., make for a bad work environment and eventually backfire (and surfing the net can be one real sore point).
On the other hand, expecting personal responsibility may be a little stressful at first (“YOU DON’T HAVE A RULE ABOUT THAT????”) but in the long term it is the best way.
We used to call it the “IBM way” when I was there. I don’t know how they do things now, but when they were unstoppable, that is how things were done.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Surfing the net at work, again

I read your article again, and I apologize:
You did NOT say “allow surfing”, you said “don’t ban it”.

RIGHT ON! Treat people like responsible adults, stay out of the way as much as possible (though you do want to be sure that everyone is on board on what the company’s direction is on a broad front) and in the long term, things get better and better.

After thinking about it, I think you said that.

John Hamrick says:

Re: Let He Who Is Without Sin...

…and that is exactly the kind of attitude that seems prevalent today. What it is, is theft, period. 12 minutes of every hour is a HUGE deal. If my largest client lost 12 minutes of every hour, he would be loosing $6,000 a day. Um, that’s $30,000 a week, $120,000 a month. Big deal?

There is no justification, unless of course you can put all of your employees on “pay for performance” and not pay them a nickel unless they produce a quarter..then watch them scream.

Mansur Khawaja says:

Its Simple - A matter of Rights and perceptions

Well I think its only a matter of Rights and perceptions.
At my workplace, its common to see employees taking a 10-15Min break to smoke or chit chat or both while using Networking sites for less time is considered a waste of time. Although we should monitor and educate users about these networking sites. More needs to be done on creating awareness in these areas. With awareness programs,we can educate users and employers such issues.

Laura says:

mental break not

I am fed up with my co-workers on facebook while working. Mental break, yes…take a short walk, sit in the break room for a snack but all I see is people not doing their jobs and have no focus. Facebook and all of the other personal time sites are contributing to the fact that people are inteacting with live people much less and are not getting there work done. I don’t need to be on it while at work…I have work to do!

Knowlege Worker says:

John Hamrick

You make a few good points but mostly you sound like a control freak. For many jobs these, the degree and force and compulsion that you seem to advocate may be counter productive. For example, many of todays workers are knowlege workers which produce intangible yet highly lucrative creative assets. Force, compulsion and micromanaging really kill ingenuity and creativity. So yes, if you want a workforce of unmotivated automotons, then give them no personal freedom. Meanwhile, be prepared to be put out of business by companies that foster engagement.

John Hamrick says:

Hogwash & Knowledge Worker

Because there were computers and the internet before the “worldwide web” and PC’s. I keep forgetting that many of the same people that believe that stealing time from employers using technology do not remember the time before it was possible.

To respond to the “control freak” comment. I certainly understand that many many workers need to be engaged and able to use creativity, research, connections, etc. to be good at their work. What I am referring to primarily are the majority of office type workers who are paid by the hour to operate one or two applications to get their job done, yet have super computers at their desks.

Its a mute point anyway, as it appears that most people feel like its perfectly OK to rob employers blind with tech.

John Hamrick says:

Hogwash & Knowledge Worker

Because there were computers and the internet before the “worldwide web” and PC’s. I keep forgetting that many of the same people that believe that stealing time from employers using technology do not remember the time before it was possible.

To respond to the “control freak” comment. I certainly understand that many many workers need to be engaged and able to use creativity, research, connections, etc. to be good at their work. What I am referring to primarily are the majority of office type workers who are paid by the hour to operate one or two applications to get their job done, yet have super computers at their desks.

Its a mute point anyway, as it appears that most people feel like its perfectly OK to rob employers blind with tech.

haggis hunter says:

I guess this is why so much of our productivity has moved overseas. There the employer does control employees activities making them more productive. What did your parents do at work – they worked. They didn’t have cellphones, internet access, etc. Yet they were able to produce the most powerful economy in history. Where are we now with all this technology? Are we really more productive? Or have we squandered the productivity of technology on our personal whims ‘to keep in touch’. Your parents went to work, did there jobs and came home. There was very little distraction and yet they were still basically happy without having to access Facebook, Twitter, etc. Those today think that beginning required to work without Facebook, Twitter, etc is such a hardship, grow up!

Vex says:

A lot of you sound like morons..

When there was no internet, cell phones, etc. people talked at work instead of surfing the internet to take mental breaks. When you block the ability for someone to search the web in order to relax mentally, they will just find another outlet. In my opinion(something you should when you are not speaking from factual information) as long as the work they are being paid to do gets done to or beyond the standards of the company that is paying them to do so, then it is not a waste of time. I worked in situations were the internet was blocked and the company was micromanaged for productivity purposes, only to witness people pretending to work and mastering the art of getting by with it. I have also worked in situations were the employer didn’t care what you did as long as you got your work done in time and to the standards needed for the companies gain, with some people ending up scrambling at the last minute to get their work done on time. There is no solve all ideal situation for this, but the fact of the matter is the brain needs breaks in order to function to full capacity. Wen I need a break because I see I am loosing steam, I practice my typing(related to my job) or I study related material that I enjoy in order to stay sharp. Those of you pretending as if you waste no time at all at work need to get real with yourselves and look within before dishing you criticism at others from your bubble. Do a little more research on the human brain and the science behind fatigue and how it affects performance, which you can find all over the internet with backings coming from world renowned scientists and universities. Know when you are stating your opinion and avoid making statements as if you have studied the matter.

Larry Guerette says:

allow surfing during work?

I am an electrical contractor. Maybe I am old school, but it seems that most of the post writers here would allow me to play on my phone for 12 minutes per hour at 60 dollars per hour (a buck a minute) while I am working at their home? Oops, maybe its a different story when someone else is footing the bill. I may have to take a call while going out to the truck sometimes, but if I am in your home, I am working. I wouldn’t have the nerve to play games or surf while you are paying for my services.

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