While older people wonder if modern connectivity behavior is leading to a lack of coherent thinking, they tend to forget previous generations worried over that too - because the next to come along couldn't use a slide rule.

A new study has found that, in younger workers, short breaks that include non-work browsing - Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing (WILB) - can potentially improve attention to work tasks.

Concentration during workplace tasks is of the upmost importance; however, it declines over time as mental resources are expended, with cited research from the study finding that subjects begin to lose concentration after 5 to 15 minutes before needing a break.

According to the study, “WILB is the act of using the company Internet for personal reasons during work hours, which might include watching YouTube movies, engaging in social media sites such as Facebook, or doing any other activity that might be construed as personal Internet use outside of organizationally set tasks.”

Based on the constructs, the researcher theorized that [1] WILB will have positive effects on a worker’s attention to a task by reducing vigilance decrement – a psychological term meaning a decline in attention to a task as time progresses – and [2] workers under the age of 30 recognize WILB as having a more positive effect on their workplace productivity than older workers because they grew up in the “technology age.”

To test these hypotheses, two separate studies were conducted.

The first study assessed the overall task vigilance of four separate groups receiving a different kind of short break while at work: WILB break (surfing Facebook for five minutes), Internet break (comparing separate insurance policies for best deal), stationary break (remaining in place), and no break. The results indicated that task vigilance did not decay as much for those in the WILB group compared to the other three groups.

The second study utilized online surveys to a nationwide sample of 2700 office workers to determine the differing attitudes towards WILB among separated age groups. The results indicated that younger workers reap attitudinal and attention benefits from WILB that older workers do not.  

“The implication of this research for managers is that WILB should not necessarily be treated as ‘cyberloafing,’ whereby perpetrators should be punished. Although excessive WILB may negatively impact worker performance by consuming time that would otherwise be spent performing work-related tasks, the present research suggests positive benefits within reasonable limits,” wrote the researcher in the discussion. “An interesting avenue for future research would be to examine how motivational factors might moderate any effects of WILB productivity.”

Citation: Brent L. S. Coker, Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing, Human Performance, Volume 26, Issue 2, 2013, DOI: 10.1080/08959285.2013.765878.