Guest post written by Lily Kalaj.

We've all been guilty to some degree.

We brainstorm, develop an assignment, work for a while...and then comes the mental break.

We pull out our phones, tap a few buttons, and check our email. Or in some cases, maybe we just open another browser tab and read about our friend’s latest restaurant adventure.

Cyberslacking

These acts fall into the category of cyberslacking, which refers to the use of electronics for personal use during work hours: checking email, mindlessly surfing the web, shopping for holiday gifts, playing Candy Crush. Just today, you’ve probably peeked over your cubicle and noticed your neighbor scrolling through their Facebook news feed when they should have been compiling weekly metric stats.

Cyberslacking

Cyberslacking

This modern workplace phenomenon has drawn much attention from companies on a global scale, particularly regarding the consequences of these behaviors. The general consensus among research is that cyberslacking not only costs companies money, but may not even increase employee productivity in the long run.

BBC’s Ronald Alsop discusses how younger generations are especially likely to engage in cyberslacking, and how for quite a few individuals, the use of electronics becomes addicting. Alsop mentions how many Millennials, or members of Generation X, report they’re less productive at work due to cyberslacking and other distractions. In terms of cost, a statistic found that social media costs companies around $650 million alone.

A silver lining?

On the flipside, however, cyberslacking may come with a silver lining. Hours worked per week have never been higher in most occupations; as such, could cyber distractions actually act as a breather for the modern worker?

A 2012 study in Japan found that when exposing students to cute animal pictures, it was found that afterwards their focus on specific tasks that they were requested to do had increased. Now just think about his: how many times have you had coworkers message you the latest funny cat video or a photo of a cute dog dressed in a sweater? (Take it from someone who works in the IT industry: it’s a daily occurrence.) The Huffington Post cites research from Singapore that mindlessly surfing the web led workers to feel more refreshed when they returned to work.

As a young woman in the modern workplace, it does seem to be the case that taking breaks, whether through the cyberworld or by just taking a brisk walk around the office, does improve focus. Not only that, but it may foster more ease between coworkers, leading to a more laid-back office atmosphere.

The intriguing takeaway from these studies is that cyberslacking (and other types of distractions) could serve to benefit cultures around the world.

Workplace analysis

However, do these findings depend on type of workplace? That is, does cyberslacking pose benefits to certain work cultures, but problems to others?

Facebook, for one, is the most widely used social network in history, with as many as one billion active users per day. But an article from FastCompany states that their headquarters feature employee-created artwork around every corner, ping-pong tables and Dance Dance Revolution every few hundred yards, and a street hockey court in the center of the complex. Inside peeks at Google claim that meeting rooms have been turned into ballpits, nap pods adorn the halls, and a slide connects various floors of Googleplex.

FastCompany also took a look at Virgin America, a renowned airline company on the West Coast. They, like Facebook and Google, boast a unique workplace culture. For example, their employees create funny messages on large boards to bring a sense of humor to flight delays or disturbances, just as Southwest is known to engage more actively with their in-flight customers than most airlines.

GoDaddy.com, who is singlehandedly responsible for powering a third of the world’s Internet, is also defined by a unique work culture to manifest both power and creativity. Beyond notorious Christmas parties where employees can win innovative gifts and jockey for position in contests, their offices also boast a modern touch with in-office bicycles and go-karts.

These are just a few examples of the many companies who seem to benefit from the occasional break from work. Across the board, these are companies whose very cornerstone is defined by creativity and innovation. And for them, this could very well explain why cyberslacking may offer more benefits than it does detriments.

Our globally connected society is built upon technological advancement, innovation, and progress. Future employers should ask themselves how they can help individuals thrive and focus within the workplace, and whether browsing Instagram between meetings really costs anything in the long run.

See also:

Alsop, Ronald. (2015, April 9). A generation of cyberslackers. BBC.

BRW (2012, December 31). Cyberslacking boosts workplace productivityFairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd.

Jamieson, Dave. (2011, Aug 16). ‘Cyberloafing’ At Work Boosts Productivity, Researchers Find. The Huffington Post.

Lamb, Leah. (2015, August 10). Inside the Creative Office Cultures of Facebook, IDEO, and Virgin America. Fast Company.

Nittono, H., Fukushima, M., Yano, A., & Moriya, H. (2012). The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus. PLoS ONE,7(9): e46362. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046362

Shore, J. (2012, November 2). Social Media Distractions Cost U.S. Economy $650 million. Mashable.