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Study: Surfing the Web at work can pay off in productivity

Consumer Reports News: August 23, 2011 10:38 AM

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Workers, rejoice! Scientists have evidence that browsing the Internet while sitting at your office desk may actually be beneficial to your job performance.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Don J.Q. Chen and Vivien K.G Lim of the National University of Singapore have conducted research that suggests workers who surf the Web during work breaks may actually be more refreshed than those who spend their time making personal calls or answering e-mail.

The study, "Impact of Cyberloafing on Psychological Engagement," was composed of two similar groups. In each, participants were divided into three smaller groups but given the same simple 20-minute task: Highlight as many instances of the letter E as possible in a sample piece of text. Each group was then assigned a different task for the next 10 minutes—either to complete another simple task, surf the Web, or do anything else (except browse the Web). Afterward, all three groups were told to highlight Es for another 10 minutes.

The result: Web surfers were significantly more productive and effective at tasks than those in the other two groups. Lower levels of mental exhaustion and boredom but higher levels of engagement were also reported.

Why is browsing the Web more relaxing? Dr. Lim told the Wall Street Journal:

[People] usually choose to visit only the sites that they like—it's like going for a coffee or snack break. Breaks of such nature are pleasurable...

But there are limits, say the researchers. E-mail, for example, can be counterproductive, because reading messages is "cognitively more demanding, relative to Web surfing, as you need to pay attention to what is said on the email" wrote Dr. Lim.

The scientists' study and findings were presented last week at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, an association of management scholars, in San Antonio, TX.

Web Surfing Helps at Work, Study Says [Wall Street Journal]
Internet browsing at work? It's a pause that refreshes workers and enhances their productivity, new research finds [Academy of Management press release]

Paul Eng

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