Cyberslacking refers to the term which has widely been defined as employees using IT equipment and systems for non-work related purposes. Although cyberslacking has only just emerged in the past decade, slacking has existed long before the most recent technological breakthroughs. Breaks at work have always occurred and were a staple of office culture. Before the personal computer was introduced, slacking meant frequent visits to the water cooler for idle chatter and gossip, taking extend lunches and having long personal non-work related telephone conversations. Now employees visit news, social media, chat rooms, shopping, and gaming sites on company time. A survey conducted by Websense, Inc. in 2006 on 351 IT decision-makers in the U.S estimated that employees spend 5.7 hours per week on personal web surfing at work. According to the Better Business Bureau the, "International Data Corp says 60 percent of all online purchases are made during work hours."
The term “cyberslacking” is embedded with a language bias due to both social values and material interests. There is an expected level of performance for the employees and students by the employers or teachers. “Cyberslacking” assumes technology related amusements are impeding efficiency and effectiveness.
Employers Vs. Employees
Employers, aware of the cyberslacking issue have found ways to combat these obstacles for productivity. In a report conducted in 2010 by OpenDNS, companies most often blocked Ebay, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter from their employees. Beyond blocking sites, companies have begun to use Key logging software on their employees computers. This allows employers to track websites visited and gauge employee productivity.
Employees and popular websites have also found ways to further promote cyberslacking. One popular method is the Boss Button. A boss button is a button that can be clicked while on an non productive website that will change the current screen to a decoy screen. The decoy screen varies, sites like TBS.com display bogus excel sheets while others display work related websites that you can set. The increasing popularity of boss buttons convinced google chrome to create a boss button add-on. Another method used to disguise cyberslacking as productive work is multiple desktop screens. By having multiple screens such as spaces on a Mac, employees can have a screen dedicated to work like applications and one devoted to their personal enjoyment. Employees can then switch screens within a second by using either a hot key or another method when their boss is around.
Often ignored in discussions of cyberslacking is the efficacy of judging employees based on time worked instead of resulting productivity. This falls into a fallacy called the McNamara fallacy, as employees are judged based on easily measured criteria (hours worked) instead of criteria that are hard to measure but more representative of actual value (how much work they complete) . Because employers create the metrics for judging employees, bad metrics for judging employees can lead to punishing productive employees and rewarding unproductive employees, or incentivizing behavior that leads to poor overall productivity. Office work's focus on hours persists from its evolution from factories, where workers were valued more for their physical abilities than mental. Even when employers acknowledge a middle ground between total employee freedom and schedules from the industrial revolution, they don't re-examine the use of time worked as a measurement of productivity gained .
Employers trying to control employee behavior has existed almost since factories first began. The modern manager employee relationship is most similar to the factory manager employee relationship, so parallels can be drawn. One of the earliest factories, the Lowell Mill, had a very detailed schedule that only allowed for breaks during meals . The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire became a tragedy when workers couldn't escape because of doors locked to prevent theft . Though these examples are extreme, they demonstrate that employers have been implementing heavy-handed measures to reduce perceived productivity and profits wasted by employees.
Though there is not significant evidence that cyberslacking and employer response to cyberslacking is a categorically different problem from drains on productivity of the past, it is still worth seeing the trend in time wasting. Salary.com conducts frequent surveys on employee time wasting. In 2006 it reported an average of 1.86 hours wasted per day per worker , in 2005 the average was 2.09. Though the report for 2014 does not directly cite average hours wasted per day per worker, the numbers provided yield an average between 1.02-1.07 hours per day per worker . Though the perception is that social media is a major culprit for cyberslacking, the evidence shows that it is at least comparable to cyberslacking before social media. If employees have moved their slacking activities from the internet at large to social media in particular perhaps cyberslacking has not increased time wasting, but is just a new manifestation of an old problem.
Technology is booming rapidly in all sects of the business world. As a result, cyberslacking is not a phenomena that exists only in the United States. In recent survey, the British employment website MyJobGroup.co.uk reported that over 2 million UK-based workers (6% of the workforce) were spending over an hour on social networking sites.
On January 4th, 2006 New York City Michael Bloomberg fired Edward Greenwood IX, an assistant working in a Legislative Affairs Office in Albany, for leaving up a game of Solitaire on his computer screen. Greenwood was dismissed of his $30,3000 salary, six year job with no severance pay and no other job offers. Mayor Bloomberg stated, "There's nothing wrong with taking a break but during the business day at your desk, that's not appropriate behavior." Greenwood told reporters that he had always finished his work in a timely fashion, and that he played solitaire only when there was no work left to do, usually a few times a week or during lunch breaks.
A similar case also in New York sprang up a few months after in March 2006. Toquir Choudhri, a city employee of the New York's Department of Education, was fired for browsing sites like Google and lonelyplanet.com. On a more positive note for Choudhri, Administrative Law Judge John Spooner ruled in favor of Choudhri recommending that he should keep his job. Choudhri's defense attorney argued that there was never incomplete work or people waiting and that Choudhri was an upstanding employee who finished all of his assignments. The ruling, however, was just a recommendation and whether Choudhri got his job back was up to his employer.
Cyberslacking in Schools
As social media gains popularity, cyberslacking is no longer limited to employees. Students are beginning to tweet during class, Facebook chat, or play games. In order to keep students focused, schools can purchase software such as SMART Sync in order to be able to see each computer screen at the same time. This management software also allows you to send messages to individual computers to those not on appropriate sites as well as lock all computer screens.
It is not just students who are cyberslacking in school, but teachers and administrators as well. In the Journal of College & Character, one particular article states "...cyberslacking is an ethical dilemma for classroom teachers using electronic platforms to complete work for their college courses and for college/university professors who are mandating on-line activities." . This article shows that when examining graduate student teachers, almost half completed assignments during school hours.
Cyberslacking has several implications affecting productivity and the student-teacher or employee-employer relationships. Statistics from Cengage Learning on cyberslacking in school illustrate a gap in perceived usage by instructors at 92% and reported usage by students at 77% , suggesting a low level of teacher-student trust. According to LightArrow ~40% of employees spend 1 hr and ~4% of employees who spend 10+ hours  suggesting that cyberslacking is both widespread and deeply embedded in the workplace. Cyberslacking indirectly affects fellow employees and students who may catch a glimpse of their peer’s screen. Another implication includes decreased employer-employee trust and many companies also have a negative outlook on social media sites.
Efforts to Redress
Employers also make many efforts along the spectrum of punishments and rewards to minimize cyberslacking. Some companies ban personal phone use or enact quiet hours during the work day in an attempt to reduce distraction. Companies also may use employee monitoring software  or may block specific sites, such as social media, to remove the temptation of cyberslacking altogether. In response, employees have also created and informed others of ways to avoid the monitoring and ignore the blocking. Employers may also punish slacking employees with written or verbal warnings, decreased compensation for work, or termination of employment. Employers may also provide productivity software tools or designate no meeting days incentivize employees and boost productivity. An increase in work at home days, designated fun zones, and encouragement to take short breaks encourage employees to be more productive when they return to their desk.
Technology Permeation and Cyberslacking
The 21st century is often dubbed as the Digital Age. With each year, a new slew of smaller, faster, and cheaper network connected devices become available in the market place. Gartner, an American research and advisory firm specializing in information technology, forecasted that 20.6 billion connected devices would be in use worldwide in 2020 . After the introduction of the first personal computer in 1975, the realm of mass market consumer electronics took off . Now personal computing has expanded into a spectrum of devices: ranging from smartphone devices to tablets. Researchers and manufacturers attribute this rapid growth and advancement of technology to a concept known as Moore’s Law, created by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore . The law was fueled by his observation that the number of transistors per square inch of a integrated circuit board doubled every year, which entailed faster, smaller, and cheaper devices.
Network connected devices allows streams of communication and information with a single touch, tap or click. In the United States, approximately 66% own a smartphone . The increasing usage and ownership of such devices have reached unprecedented levels in the past years. However, the ubiquity of electronic devices poses new consequences for users at work and home. Internet connected devices typically have no physical distinction between productivity and leisure activities. Separation, if any, is left up to the digression of the user. For example, a user can install the notes app contiguous to the angry bird app. Instant notifications can distract users to change course and interact correspondingly to initial intentions. Researchers found that alerts regardless of the nature of the notification hurt performance on attention-demanding tasks .
While it is known that these distractions are prevalent behavior seen in the workplace or school classroom, it can also be seen within the home. Reporting of employees putting in long hours in the work day, working during vacation, weekends and/or nights, and responding to emails at all hours are not unheard of. The New York Times article “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace,” uncovers the online retailer’s expectations for Amazon workers . Supposedly stemming from their mission to do “really big, innovative, groundbreaking things,” the company boasts high standards for long nights in the office and emails to be sent past midnight.
These seemingly opposing effects are made possible with the permeation of the same technology in the individual's work and leisure space. Technological permeation is the transition of devices into distinct aspects of an individual’s life. The cost of conveniently being connected to different realms of your lifestyle can may make it hard to maintain a work-life balance. According to the American Time Use Survey, full-time employees were reported to work 8.57 hours per weekday in 2014 as compared to 8.46 in 2003. Considering that 260 days make a typical working year, the increased time at the office is a significantly greater time commitment . As for leisure activities, the average American spends 45 more minutes as compared to 2003.
The distribution of competing forces that motivate and sustain cyberslacking is still unclear. Expectations from managers, company culture, social pressures, or cultural norms may account for the prominence of cyberslacking. Leslie Perlow, a Harvard Business School professor, claims that current norms espouse an “always-on” lifestyle in which individuals are available on any network-enabled device around the clock . Rather than strictly defining work from play, the concept of an always-on culture lacks the designation of routine breaks. In some cases, this need for a break manifests into mismatched behavior in a given situation.
The advancements of technology have made life easier for everyone. People are now able to retrieve information with a click of a button, and work tasks can be performed easier. However, these advancements are a gift and a curse. Productivity can be hindered due to technology.
- Odell, Carol (2011). Controlling Cyberslacking says Carol. http://www.bbb.org/blog/2011/07/controlling-cyberslacking/
- McBride, Jackie; Milligan, Julie; Nichols, Joe. (2006) Who's Teaching the Kids? Cyberslacking in the Classroom. Journal of College & Character. Volume 7, No. 1.