It's no secret that people sneak in some personal e-mail and Web surfing when they're supposed to be working.
A new study attempts to shatter perceptions that these Web surfers are just slackers trying to avoid work. In fact, it turns out everyone does it, from senior managers to entry-level employees — and researchers figure that means management attempts to clamp down on Internet use may be missing the mark.
Many legitimate reasons may be at play, speculates R. Kelly Garrett, one of the study's authors and a communications professor at Ohio State University. For instance, people may use the Web at work to help balance job and life responsibilities; with the personal matters taken care of from work, they can focus on the task at hand.
"It's appropriate to just avoid the knee-jerk response that all personal Internet use is detrimental," Garrett said.
Installing filters to block access to Web sites and e-mail services could backfire by reducing job satisfaction and thus productivity, researchers wrote.
The study on "cyberslacking," based on statistical analyses of responses in a phone survey of 1,024 people during the summer of 2006, was published in the June issue of the CyberPsychology and Behavior journal.
James N. Danziger, a professor at the Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations at the University of California, Irvine, was Garrett's co-author.
The study didn't attempt to go much beyond trying to gauge the types of employees who use the Internet for personal reasons. Garrett said more research is needed to determine motives and measure effects on productivity. Those studies, researchers say, would then help companies figure out how best to control and accommodate personal use.