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Faculty Insights

How to Reduce ‘Cyberloafing’ in the Workplace

By Wisconsin School of Business

May 26, 2015

Whether it’s just taking a second to find a good restaurant for lunch or quickly checking the time a movie is showing, the temptation for employees to “cyberloaf”—use the Internet for non-work-related activities—can be irresistible.

Maria Triana
Maria Triana, Associate Professor of Management and Human Resources at the Wisconsin School of Business

My colleagues Kwanghyun Kim of Korea University, Kwiyoung Chung of Western University, Nahyun Oh of the University of Missouri, and I wanted to know what drives employees to seek out Internet distractions in order to better understand how organizations can reduce its frequency.
We focused on conscientiousness and emotional stability, which are strong predictors of job performance, and how an individual’s sense of justice and empowerment moderates the negative relationship between these personality traits and cyberloafing.
Conscientious employees pay attention to detail and tend to be focused and rigorous in their work. Emotionally stable employees spend less time and energy regulating their emotions, have more resources to devote to doing their work, are more focused, and less likely to cyberloaf.
Our study yielded some interesting findings. Despite their strong work ethic, conscientious employees are not immune to the temptations of cyberloafing. When they perceive a lack of justice in the workplace, conscientious employees may engage in moderate to high levels of cyberloafing. When they feel that they are being treated fairly, conscientious employees tend to cyberloaf less.
Employees who are low in conscientiousness, however, cyberloaf at the same rates regardless of their perceptions of justice in the workplace.
Empowerment is another important factor in motivation. It gives people ownership over their tasks and instills a sense of responsibility and pride in their work. When empowerment is high, people generally have a good attitude about work and are probably more likely to be satisfied. Surprisingly, our research shows that empowerment is correlated with cyberloafing. Even conscientious employees can’t resist cyberloafing when they feel empowered.
It seems that empowerment can motivate employees and encourage cyberloafing simultaneously. Can empowered employees continue to be productive if they’re completing small side tasks? Perhaps surfing the Web throughout the day gives people a break that enables them to return to their work refreshed.
Although it’s probably not possible to eliminate cyberloafing, the following are some suggestions on how to reduce it based on this and previous research:

  • Screen candidates for emotional stability and conscientiousness during job interviews.
  • Foster justice by implementing fair polices and communicating effectively to prevent perceived injustices.
  • Use organizational norms and policies to discourage cyberloafing. Previous studies show that employees engage in more minor forms of cyberloafing when they think their supervisor or co-workers support norms that discourage cyberloafing.

For more on this topic see our article, “When Do Employees Cyberloaf? An Interactionist Perspective Examining Individual Differences, Justice, and Empowerment” in Human Resource Management