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What is Cyberloafing and How Does it Affect the Workday?

By Edited Jul 12, 2016 7 21

Computer technology has transformed workplaces across the globe over the past two decades. Then came the Internet and, as it rapidly moved beyond a novelty to become a necessity, it too has dramatically changed how businesses run operations and process transactions. While technology is clearly designed to increase efficiency, cost effectiveness, productivity and, ultimately, profitability, there are some drawbacks. One problem reportedly cropping up in recent years is a phenomenon called cyberloafing.

What is Cyberloafing?

Cyberloafing is a term that describes worker behavior on the Internet during work hours. It is a relatively new term. The cyberloafer is a person who spends his or her day on the Internet engaging in non-work related activities. According to Techopedia, the term originates from the word "goldbricking" which essentially means applying a gold coating to a brick of valueless metal, giving it the impression of worth. [1]

Keyboard.Social media on screen
Credit: Andy_Bay via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/keyboard-hands-set-text-758101/

What are the Top Cyberloafing Activities?

According to U.S. News, in 2013 a study published by Kansas State University found a large percentage of employee time spend online engaging in non-work activities during work hours. The study said between 60 and 80 percent of people cyberloaf. [2]

So what are they doing? Cyberloafers spend their days focused on surfing different websites, a few examples are:

  • Engaging in online shopping
  • Conducting online banking
  • Posting on social media
  • Playing Web-based games
  • Watching various types of videos on YouTube or other websites
  • Streaming live sports events, such as March Madness
  • Searching for new jobs
  • Reading and writing emails

The U.S. News also reported email is a "gateway distraction" to other types of cyberloafing since many people leave their personal email accounts open in a browser window as they go about their work day. Consider all the messages and notifications that pop up throughout the day from family and friends, social media website notifiers, and coupons for online sales—then there are instant messaging applications to think about, being most popular email programs come with an IM option these days. This could create issues with effective time management.

The Problems with Cyberloafing

Cyberloafing activities have led to lost productivity and, as a result, businesses are losing money paying employees for time not spent performing work tasks. With employee attention being shifted to non-work related activities online, the overall workflow slows down and important deadlines or benchmarks may even be missed. Thousands of dollars are reportedly lost each year per employee. Some reports suggest, collectively, this costs national businesses tens of billions of dollars annually. 6 A March 2016 report gives a more specific number - for U.S. businesses, stating it could be as much as $85 billion. [7]

Cat napping on printer
Credit: SanGatiche/Flickr Creative Commons-Attribution

In addition, the U.S. News report indicated, aside from the obvious distractions occurring when employees shift to non-work related tasks, employees end up taking time to recover and refocus after engaging in cyberloafing. For instance, a 2012 infographic published by Learnstuff.com noted it takes a person over 20 minutes to "regroup" after spending time on social media. [3] This leads to further losses.

Employers Take Action

Due to the increased problems associated employee Internet use, including cyberloafing, many employers have decided to monitor their employees, which has led to different types of organizational problems. Solutions businesses have pursued include:

  • Restricting access to certain websites, such as Amazon, Facebook and other popular websites
  • Monitoring Internet use, including websites visited and emails
  • Amount of time spent online

Instilling these types of measures can have negative drawbacks, not to mention employees are entitled to breaks and lunch hours, creating a conflict with how they can spend their free time with an expectation of reasonable privacy. (Creating work Internet policies can be a delicate balance for employers, cyberloafing issues aside, they do have network security to consider as well). Additionally, these types of solutions also do not address the fact some workers may simply turn to their personal smartphones to cyberloaf if they can't use an employer's computer. Making all the technology policy changes in the world is not going to change some people's behavior.

If the issue of cyberloafing is not present in a workplace and productivity and performance is at desired levels, chances are an employer will allow levels of autonomy when it comes to using the Internet during work hours. In this respect, it does boil down to worker behavior.

Update January 2016:  Further examination of this issue suggests the aforementioned cyberloafing activities can potentially generate higher levels of productivity. In August 2014, early findings of a study conducted by the University of Cincinnati suggest taking work breaks using the Internet "can refresh workers and boost productivity." [4] Worker burnout is something employers also want to avoid.

Credit: Geralt via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/despair-alone-being-alone-archetype-513529/

Another study, published in January 2016, found that how managers approached cyberloafing could have an impact. First they let the participants have open access to the Internet as they were working. Some worked hard, others cyberloafed and some switched back and forth.  About 14 percent of the workers’ time was found to be spent cyberloafing.

Next, they shut down the Internet, but didn't find an increase in productivity. So they tried another approach, they allowed the group to vote whether or not the Internet should be turned off. Ninety percent of the time, the participants voted to cut off access to the Internet. Cyberloafers increased productivity by 38 percent.

“In group voting, you strategically give your workers control over something,” Matthew McCarter,  associate professor of management at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), said in a press release about the study. “By giving them a voice to stop an unproductive behavior, not only did a strong majority agree to stop cyberloafing, but those who had been cyberloafing (and even who voted against turning off the Internet) redeemed themselves by contributing to the team and working just as hard as the others.” [5]

As with most anything else in life, this issue is likely going to be about finding the right balance between work and play. Cyberloafing is an area of study that is probably going to become more prominent in the future as society becomes more and more "connected" in various aspects of life.



Aug 8, 2014 2:29pm
This is a huge problem and yet policing people at work can cause all kinds of strife. In a hospital I worked at we were required to report the time spent on different projects and tasks per day. I think there will always be social loafers, the key is to find the right type of employees who don't need to be babysat - those who work diligently and take pride in their job.
Aug 9, 2014 2:08am
Great points Rose, thanks so much for commenting. This whole society of "policing" is going to be one of our downfalls in the long run I think...and as you note, isn't going to solve the problem.
Aug 10, 2014 8:57am
Is it only described as "cyberloafing" when it is done at work? Or is this term used to describe this activity when it interferes with at home activities as well? Because I think I tend to cyberloaf when completing school assignments or looking up recipes, as well.

Also, do I recognize you from Helium?
Aug 12, 2014 3:33am
Hi Kaitlyn, how are you? :). Yes and I remember you from there too. Thanks for commenting...I have not heard the term used in this way, but it does seem to fit.
Aug 10, 2014 8:47pm
Interesting, since we keep seeing that American worker productivity is increasing. It makes me wonder whether those increases are real, or just the result of more automation that's really giving workers more time to cyberloaf.
Aug 12, 2014 3:30am
Thanks ttoddoo1 for commenting. That's a good question. It seems to me there is a balance in there somewhere (productivity), but depending on what study/article you read, it can vary. Also, the line of what is "quitting time" seems to continue to blur, so personal and work lives often clash I think.
Aug 10, 2014 8:47pm
Interesting, since we keep seeing that American worker productivity is increasing. It makes me wonder whether those increases are real, or just the result of more automation that's really giving workers more time to cyberloaf.
Aug 10, 2014 8:47pm
Interesting, since we keep seeing that American worker productivity is increasing. It makes me wonder whether those increases are real, or just the result of more automation that's really giving workers more time to cyberloaf.
Aug 10, 2014 8:48pm
Oops...sorry, got carried away.
Aug 16, 2014 2:06am
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.......................
Sep 21, 2014 2:37pm
I don't think you can expect people to work constantly all day, every day. Taking a few minutes and reading a news article or looking at something on Amazon probably is beneficial in the long run as long as its not excessive.
Sep 22, 2014 3:25am
Thanks for commenting frankn. I think the problem emerges when people neglect their jobs. For instance, I stopped by another office (same employer) and needed to be helped with something work-related. She said, "Be with you in a few minutes" and made me wait. I happened to glance over (she indeed made me wait), she was busy surfing Weight Watchers' site.
Sep 21, 2014 9:34pm
Many workers think about the job, and invent solutions, while away from the office. They may also connect remotely at odd hours to fix things, check email, etc. Often this is not paid activity but is part of the give and take of the modern job site. A little cyberloafing is fine with me.
Sep 22, 2014 3:19am
Hi javrsmith, thanks for sharing your thoughts. That's a great point, with the ability to check in these days, this extra activity is not probably considered by many employers who see it as an issue. (Although, I'd venture to guess these employees are likely not the ones engaging in a ton of cyberloafing?)
Sep 26, 2014 8:31am
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Employers interest should come first. It is unprofessional to check your facebook, twitter and the likes during official hour.
Nov 3, 2014 6:37pm
In my agency we use social media as an advertising tool. I have noticed with myself that managing our company online presence can lead to a bit of loafing over time. I've caught myself a few times getting distracted by this post or that post while keeping up the company profiles. It does take a good bit of self discipline to stay out of the trap!
Nov 5, 2014 2:38am
Thanks Yorksy and insoptinc2 for reading/commenting.
@insoptinc2, that is interesting, that must be a tricky balance when spending time on social media is a part of your job description. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Nov 16, 2014 6:04am
At a place I worked only management had Web access on their desktops. We set up an "internet cafe" in our spacious break room with several PCs for other employees to use on breaks and at lunch. It did two things: 1) gave people Web access who maybe wouldn't have it otherwise and, 2) controlled Web use outside the management group. Worked out really well, and we didn't have to jerk around monitoring web use (all we asked was that they not look at porn). Thumb for your article.
Nov 17, 2014 2:46am
That's a fab solution and seems it would be cost-effective. I've never seen that in the workplace (then again I was in the public sector where they wouldn't have had space for a break room, never mind computers! lol ). Most of my family/friends who work in the private sector seem to have semi to strict monitoring though. Thanks Vic for commenting and for the thumbs up.
May 12, 2015 11:24am
Looks like I'm guilty of cyberloafing as I found this article while in the office. Interesting read, and now I'm ready to get back to work!
May 13, 2015 2:41am
Ut oh! (lol)
Thanks so much for reading and commenting, appreciated.
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  1. "Cyberloafing." Technopedia. 6/08/2014 <Web >
  2. "The Top Cyberloafing Activities of a Distracted Office Worker." U.S. News. 21/13/2013. 6/08/2014 <Web >
  3. "Social Media At Work." Learn Stuff. 26/10/2012. 6/08/2014 <Web >
  4. "Attention, Bosses: Web-Surfing at Work Has Its Benefits." University of Cincinnati. 04/08/2014. 31/01/2015 <Web >
  5. "UTSA study explores how to increase productivity by stopping cyberloafing." UTSA Today. 18/01/2016. 19/01/2016 <Web >
  6. "How to Legally Limit Worker Cyberloafing." FindLaw. 21/03/2016. 14/04/2016 <Web >
  7. "You’re ‘cyberloafing’ right now. Here’s how your employer might stop that one day.." Boston.com . 17/03/2016. 14/04/2016 <Web >

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