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Web surfing during work – it is better for employers to take a reasonable approach

New research suggests that it may be wise for employers to take a reasonable approach when dealing with issues of employee web surfing during work; in fact, by banning it outright and excessively patrolling the workplace, employers may cause more harm than good.

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These days, it appears to be a fact of life that some employees surf the Internet for brief periods of time after working on tough assignments to give themselves a mental break before beginning the next task.

Contrary to what some may believe, associate professor Vivien K. G. Lim and graduate student Don J. Q. Chen of the National University of Singapore, found that employers can actually increase productivity by giving employees some time to surf the Internet during work hours. Those in the group that were given time to surf reported significantly lower levels of mental exhaustion and boredom, and significantly higher levels of psychological engagement. What’s more, the researchers linked browsing the Internet with more positive mental states, including excitement, interest, alertness and activity. This is because, according to the researchers, the brief moments of Internet browsing serves an important restorative function.

On the other hand, it was found that the more employers monitor for web browsing, the more employees do it, since employees view policies banning browsing as a form of mistrust in them. Further, interestingly, the acts of reading and answering emails were more associated with negative mental states including feeling distressed, fearful, hostile and jittery.

So what does this mean for employers?

Perhaps blanket bans are not the way to go; maybe the best way to deal with the issue of employee browsing is to create a more reasonable policy. For instance, a reasonable Internet browsing policy can balance the employer’s need for productivity and the employees’ need to briefly browse to enable mental breaks between complex tasks. This policy could take the form of allowing some time and visits to certain appropriate sites (such as selected websites offering news, social networking, online gaming, entertainment and hobby-related activities) with certain time restrictions.

Moreover, pursuant to the results of the study, it may be a good idea to limit the time spent on personal emails in order to maintain positive mental states in the workplace.

The comments following the linked article demonstrate both views on the issue. What do you think? Do you believe that web surfing provides a restorative function, or is this just an excuse to socialize and minimize the time spent working?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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