Moderate leisure surfing at work is OK

Study may find employees who use 20 percent of time in office surfing for leisure more productive, but firms say this is too much personal surfing time.

While allowing employees some time to surf for leisure at the office has its benefits, they should do so in moderation, say some business executives.

Arun Rao, global HR vice president at software testing company AppLabs, acknowledged that leisure Web browsing at the workplace has its pros and cons. "At this point in time, I don't see myself or the organization actively encouraging employees to engage in leisure surfing at work beyond what we feel is appropriate," Rao told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

He noted that too much leisure surfing at a work can potentially result in loss of productivity. In addition, the amount of bandwidth consumed and security of the corporate network are sources of major worry, he said.

"I have read reports the Conficker worm was transmitted through many of the unsecured sites that make up [this user group]," he added.

Rao was responding to study findings released April by the University of Melbourne, which indicated that leisure Web surfing at work increases workers' concentration and makes employees more productive.

Brent Coker of the university's Department of Management and Marketing, who led the study, said workers who engaged in leisure surfing in the office were more productive than those who refrained from doing so.

"People who surf the Internet for fun at work--within a reasonable limit of less than 20 percent of their total time in the office--are more productive by about 9 percent than those who don't," Coker said in the study.

These findings surprised Larry Morgan, managing director for Asia at Macquarie Telecom. He told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail: "Twenty percent is an enormous amount of a work day. If you said 15 minutes, then I might be inclined to agree."

Morgan questioned if the employees polled had too much time on their hands. He also questioned their level of productivity, as well as how well they were managed at work. "How are their companies performing--over budget, successfully or are there layoffs?" he asked.

Coker, however, noted in the study that employees need to "zone out" for a while to regain their concentration. "Think back to when you were in class listening to a lecture--after about 20 minutes your concentration probably went right down, yet, after a break your concentration was restored."

The same is true in the work place, he added. "Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enables the mind to rest, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days work, and as a result, increased productivity."

However, Coker also highlighted the need for moderation, where Internet addiction can result in these employees spending more than a "normal" amount of time online and getting irritable if they are interrupted while surfing.