The nature and increased use of the Internet has led to a new workplace threat to productivity — ‘cyberloafing’. In this Idea, the impact of lost and low-quality sleep on employee cyberloafing, as well as conscientiousness is examined.
Cyberloafing is a term used to describe behaviour in which employees spend work hours and company internet access to check personal e-mails or visit websites not related to their work. In the past, loafing was identified as taking long lunches, making personal phone calls, etc., and was more easily identifiable than cyberloafing — the latter being more difficult to discern by observation. As cyberloafing does not require one to be physically absent from their desk or the office, it is not as obvious as other forms of loafing. Such behaviour can have a significant impact on an organization, and many would want to know what factors increase the likelihood of individuals engaging in cyberloafing.
In a 2012 study by researchers including NUS Business School’s Vivien K. G. Lim, whether failing to get a good night’s sleep could render individuals more likely to cyberloaf was analyzed. Previous research has noted that “diets are broken most often and impulsive crimes are most frequently committed late in the evening, when people are tired”; this suggests that sleep helps restore depleted self-regulatory resources that are lost during the day.
Through two studies, Lim et al found that on the Monday following a shift to Daylight Saving Time (DST), non-work related Internet searches had considerably higher search volume compared to other Mondays. They also found that conscientiousness has a role to play; highly-conscientious individuals in their study were less likely to cyberloaf in response to low quality sleep than those low in conscientiousness, suggesting that sleep loss and DST changes should be less problematic for conscientious workers.
Methodology: In their first study, the researchers examined Google Insights for Search (publicly available data on search activity), focusing on search terms from the Entertainment category, including “YouTube,” “videos,” “music,” “Facebook,” etc. Using the shift to DST as a proxy for sleep loss, they looked at whether it leads to increased cyberloafing.
In a second study, they used a controlled laboratory setting to examine the role of consciousness as a moderator. Participants enrolled in a management course wore an Actigraph electronic sleep monitor the entire night prior to the lab session. Once in the lab, they were seated in a private cubicle with a computer and headphones, and watched a video-recorded lecture. However, each computer also contained software that recorded the amount of time they spent visiting other websites.
Employee cyberloafing can ultimately lead to productivity losses, and this research suggests that when employees are low on sleep they will engage in more workplace cyberloafing. Managers should be aware of this so they can avoid cutting into the sleep of their employees by requiring longer work hours in their push for higher productivity.
Also, given that one-third of nations around the world participate in some form of DST, these findings have global implications. Though decisions on DST are for policy makers to consider, by bearing in mind the spike in cyberloafing it can cause, managers can ensure they do not schedule high priority work around it.
In general, Lim et al also suggest providing designated break times in which employees can cyberloaf as a means of channelling it to noncritical time periods.
Lost Sleep and Cyberloafing: Evidence from the Laboratory and a Daylight Saving Time Quasi-Experiment. David T. Wagner, Christopher M. Barnes, Vivien K. G. Lim & D. Lance Ferris. Journal of Applied Psychology (February 2012) DOI: 10.1037/a0027557.
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