Turns out watching YouTube at work is not goofing off

Do you ever worry that maybe you spend too much time updating your Facebook status at work? 

Don’t.  An Australian study suggests that, in fact, your office should be encouraging it.

According to the research out of the University of Melbourne, people who use the Internet for personal reasons at work are nine percent more productive.

According to Wired Magazine, “’workplace Internet leisure browsing,’ or WILB, helped to sharpen workers’ concentration,” so long as it took up less than 20% of their time at the office.”

Wow – who knew YouTube could be a productivity tool?

“This made me smile,” says Nina Serpiello, a PhD student in Saybrook’s Organizational Systems program and a human factors research designer at IDEO.  “A traditional company might not encourage goofing off without having a business reason for it, like cultivating creativity for innovation. If a company is interested in empowering employees to offer ideas to outsmart the competition, then it also should promote activities that stimulate creative thinking.”


Joe Albano is a Saybrook PhD candidate in psychology concentrating on building effective organizatinoal systems, and an Organizational Development consultant.  He says the research fits well with his current research into what on-the-job factors influence an employee’s experience of happiness.

One of the factors in happiness-at-work is the experience of autonomy – and giving employees a sense of it might very well lead to productivity gains.

“My research suggests that when individuals feel a level of control over their time and the way that they apply their efforts at work, they are more likely not only to achieve their stated goals, but strive to surpass them,” Albano says.  “Individuals may experience the “Internet breaks” an expression of autonomy – a level of control over their time and effort.”

Another factor is meaningfulness – and not just the “save the world” kind. 

“Generally speaking,  low happiness individuals seem to experience work as something they need to do for some portion of the day – high happiness workers experience work as part of their integrated being,” Albano says.  “Perhaps these “Internet breaks” help workers solidify the connection between their “work persona” and the rest of their experience of life.”

That sounds right to Serpiello, who emphasizes that there’s lots of room in the general “work culture” for improvement.

“Perhaps this research speaks to a bigger problem,” she suggests:  “that people are not encouraged to think but rather follow standard operating procedure and be very predictable. Every employee can be a source of good ideas if they have appropriate inputs and outlets.”

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