If you are reading this article while at work, and you don’t work in the fields of psychology or science reporting, then there’s a good chance you are engaging in the non-productive web-surfing activity brilliantly named “cyberloafing”.
Since the term was first coined in the 1990s, cyberloafing has been considered to be a counterproductive behavior that reflects poor job performance. As such, many business leaders and efficiency researchers – most likely the types of people who use the word synergy a lot – have spent a good deal of time demonizing cyberloafing and trying to solve away its existence.
Thankfully for the rest of us, a team of Israeli and American behaviorists refused to accept the ongoing narrative, postulating instead that on-the-job personal web browsing may also reflect an employee’s attempt to pass extra time not filled by demanding tasks.
“Workplace boredom has the propensity to make employees feel unchallenged and deprived of meaning at work, and is most often defined as an emotional strain,” the authors wrote in Computers in Human Behavior, adding that boredom can also make workers feel mentally sluggish.
“Cyberloafing is a diversion of the employee’s attention from their work tasks to personal or recreational matters. In that, cyberloafing can constitute a boredom coping activity as it restructures the boring situation at work to include more interesting (albeit personal) components.”
They tested their hypothesis on 463 American public university employees who performed a diverse range of non-teaching roles. The participants were asked to complete a survey that used well-known questions to gauge, on a scale of one to five, their level of boredom, degree of work underload, how often they engaged in cyberloafing, and how often they engaged in truly counterproductive behaviors (an example question is "How often have you purposely wasted your employer’s materials/supplies?”).
As anticipated, a statistical analysis of the surveys showed that employees with light workloads tended to get bored, and dealt with that boredom by cyberloafing far more often than they did by engaging in real counterproductive behaviors. Furthermore, having an underload was not in itself correlated with counterproductive behavior.
“Cyberloafing is a rather natural response to workplace boredom and it is different from other (more harmful) forms of counterproductive work behaviors,” lead author Shani Pindek told PsyPost. “Cyberloafing happens more when the workload is low and in many cases it may not harmful to the work. Just make sure not to overdo it!”
Pindek elaborated that the group's subsequent, currently unpublished study found evidence that cyberloafing improves the negative impact of certain types of job stress – a scientific revelation that anyone who looks at cute animal pictures on Reddit has known for some time.