Managing finances. KSU's study found that employees of all ages admit to cyberloafing, but that surfing indulgences varied. Older workers weren't tweeting and playing Words with Friends like their younger colleagues. Instead, they were indulging in a little money management. And with tax season in full bloom, the number of workers using their office's Web connection for filling out and filing Schedule As is bound to spike.
Job searching. There's a common saying among career experts that job searching is a full-time job in itself. But some short-timers are on the hunt for a new job while on the clock with an old one. Clearing the occasional long lunch with your boss for the purpose of interviewing, and even choosing to inform your manager that you're in the market for a new gig are appropriate ways to handle a job search while employed. Scanning job listings and filling out online applications from your cubicle, however, are not.
The purpose of being at work is to actually be at work, but breaks are also part of working, and are to be expected. "Some people choose to take multiple smoke breaks [during the workday], or they take a break to congregate at the water cooler," says Jack Cullen, president of the IT staffing and recruiting company Modis. "This is just another type of break."
Still, excessive personal use of the office Internet could have dire consequences. A recent Modis survey found that 30 percent of IT professionals admit their departments monitor employees who might be violating content policies. And 48 percent of IT professionals admit their company does some sort of banning, blocking or throttling of non-work Web content. Additionally, CareerBuilder reports that 25 percent of employers have fired a worker for cyberloafing.
"A good, motivated employee is going to be engaged in their work," says Dave Lavinsky, president and founder of Growthink, a business planning and strategy consulting company. "Yes, they're going to goof off sometimes, but for the most part, they're going to be focused and you're going to get a lot out of them. When companies choose to play Big Brother and heavily monitor computer use, they're not going to have happy employees that are willing to give their full effort."
Here are some tips to help both employers and employees strike a better balance between cyberworking and cyberloafing:
For Employees ...
1. Set a schedule. Plan to take sporadic goof-off breaks during the day when you can take a walk, send a few texts and/or surf the Web. Then stick to just those allotted times.
2. Download a site blocker. Browser add-ons like LeechBlock (for Firefox users) and Nanny (for Chrome lovers), or websites like KeepMeOut.com are easy to install and use. Using these tools you can set up full blocks from some websites or establish time limits for browsing.
3. Use common sense. Your built-in cyberloafing breaks should be a few minutes, not a few hours. And always keep your speakers off or low just in case a site you visit uses tell-tale sounds. Also remember that while many sites are OK, some never are (if you don't know what NSFW means, it's time to look it up).
[See: 22 Ways to Be a Better Boss.]
For Employers ...
1. Be transparent about appropriate Internet use. Make sure that the office's policies on how to use the Web are known and accessible for all employees.
2. Anticipate dips in focus. Many employers expect lower productivity around the holidays and March Madness, or for other life events. "When I'm running a business, I'm going to expect productivity to go down if, for instance, someone is getting married," Lavinsky says. "What you need to do in a situation like that is put systems in place to keep employees accountable. For example, every week you could make sure that all employees, including the distracted engaged employee, make a to-do list. Be open with your employees that you know they have other things going on in their lives, but you want to work with them on what the goals for the week, and even the month, should be."