If you are at work, chances are you are probably doing it right now.
Walk into any large office, and you will most likely hear the tell-tale computer bleeps of chat programmes and online games, accompanied by furious mouse-clicking. Employees may seem busy, but many are wasting time on the Internet, or “cyberslacking.”
Studies worldwide suggest employees spend about one-fifth of their work hours engaging in personal activities. Their favourite time-wasting activity? The Internet.
Patricia Wallace, author of the 2004 book, The Internet in the Workplace: How New Technology Is Transforming Work, said employees have always found ways to avoid working too hard.
“The issue is now you have something that seems to be genuinely irresistible because it’s such a gateway to the whole planet that’s right there on your desk and easily concealed to people passing by,” said Wallace, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Employees, who cyberslack, have been shown to spend most of their time emailing, and almost a third of their messages were not related to work, said James Philips, a psychology professor at Australia’s Monash University.
Many workers manage finances or shop online. Popular social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are also common cyberslacking destinations. It is not uncommon to see a user write on his “status” report that he or she is “at work.”
Some companies, which spend millions on Web access, have fired workers for cyberslacking, citing concerns about inappropriate activities. But hiding it has become easier—people can access the Internet through cellphones, for instance.
Films and television shows have been focusing on this workplace phenomenon.
Time-wasting at work was spoofed in the 1999 cult film Office Space, while The Office, a British television comedy, which now has a US version, has shown characters playing a computer war game as part of what they described as a team-building exercise.
Walter Block, a professor of economics at Loyola University in New Orleans, pointed to similarities between employees who slacked off before the computer age and those who waste time on cyberspace.
“I think they do it for the same reason they did it before—some people, because they’re cheating their boss, other people, because it helps them work,” Block said.
Office-dedicated websites have been popping up.
Workers can go to www.overheardintheoffice.com to post and rate humorous quotes overheard at their workplaces. They can rant about office colleagues and bosses at www.annoyingcoworker.com—and email them anonymous messages through the website.
“Ugh! You eat like a pig!” one person wrote. “Stop smacking your lips and licking yourfingers and snorting whileyou eat chips two feet away from me! It’s like feeding time at the zoo!”
A recent survey, conducted by online compensation firm Salary.com, revealed about six out of 10 employees in the US acknowledged wasting time at work.
About 34% listed personal Internet use as the leading time-wasting activity in the workplace. Employees said they did so because they were bored, worked too many hours, were underpaid or were unchallenged at work.
Firms are concerned about the potentially harmful effects of surfing, deemed to be inappropriate, that could hurt the company’s image. Many firms use computer software to monitor Web activity and block certain sites or servers.
Almost one-fifth of those surveyed in a 2006 Israeli-American poll said they accessed online sex sites at work.
US-based electronics firm IBM Corp. once fired an employee for visiting an adult chatroom at work.
Last year, a New York city employee was sacked by Mayor Michael Bloomberg for having a card game on his computer screen.
Some experts say private Internet use at work does not affect productivity and could even be beneficial.
“The so-called cyberslacking could be online shopping or arranging for your dog-sitter online or taking care of banking so you don’t have to take a two-hour lunch,” Wallace said. “In cases like that, you’re actually helping employees save time”.