Personal Internet Use at Work…Increases Productivity?

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A new study from the University of Melbourne in Australia apparently flies in the face of conventional wisdom—and many employers’ common sense. According to the study, workers who are allowed to use the Internet for personal reasons during the workday are actually nine percent more productive than workers who don’t. The reason? Perhaps surfing the Internet for pleasure or personal reasons increases worker’s concentration levels or eases anxiety about other parts of their lives, enabling them to concentrate more on their work.

The study dubs such productive personal Internet use as “Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing”—or WILB.

“People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration,” said Dr. Brent Coker from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Management and Marketing, in a statement. “Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days work, and as a result, increased productivity.”

Of course, even the researchers admit there are limits, noting that people who spend, say, 20 percent or more of their time at the office dawdling on YouTube or furiously bidding on eBay aren’t likely to be improving their productivity. Coker also noted that about 14 percent of Internet users in Australia show signs of Internet addiction, not taking breaks at appropriate times, sending more than a “normal” amount of time surfing the net, and getting irritated if their personal Internet use is interrupted.

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