Should Companies Ban Facebook and Other Internet Time-Wasters?

The internet can be a distraction.

60% of companies report that they have needed to discipline employees because of their browsing habits, and more than 30% have actually had to fire people because of it.

The majority of organizations surveyed consider employee internet use to be a serious issue. About 60% have policies restricting internet use, while the remaining 40% actually block employees from accessing websites they see as “time-wasters.” Among the commonly blocked sites are Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.


Here’s an interesting story:

Brent Coker saw a funny video on YouTube. He emailed it to his sister. She wrote back that she will have to watch later—her employer blocks employees from accessing YouTube.

Well, it turns out that Dr. Coker is a researcher who studies internet behavior. This exchange got him wondering about recreational internet use in the workplace.

  • Is recreational internet use really such a bad thing?
  • What if recreational internet use is actually a good thing?


People need to take breaks, but not all breaks are created equal

We already know from previous research that taking breaks improves attention and decision making, and increases the ability to manage stress.

But not all breaks are created equal—researchers have been arguing for decades that stimulating or enjoyable work breaks can be more beneficial than simply resting.

Back to the new research. Recreational internet use was found to account for about 4% of the variation in job performance. And, if anything, high performers seem to spend a bit more leisure time browsing at work.


Some types of break help you pay better attention once you get back to work

An experiment was set up with “work” and “breaks” but replacing the part that would normally be “work” with a cognitive assessment that measures attention. One group of people just did the assessment without getting to take a break. The other 3 groups got a few 5-minute breaks where they would either:

  • Use Facebook
  • Use the internet to do something boring
  • Do nothing

The group that spent their breaks going on Facebook had significantly better attention than any of the other groups when they returned to the task. These quick 5-minute Facebook breaks seem to have given their attention a better recharge.

Perhaps it’s time for companies to start rethinking their internet policies.



Cover image credit: Sean MacEntee

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