Indulge your employees so they don’t mess up

…a new paper “Temptation at work” suggests that forbidding their employees from surfing the net could well be a counter-productive move.

Alessandro Bucciol from the economics departments at the University of Verona and the University of Amsterdam, Daniel Houser, a professor of economics at the George Mason University, Virginia and Marco Piovesan a research fellow at Harvard Business School, set out to discover whether, having been exposed to a forbidden temptation – such as surfing the net for personal use – employees’ productivity on subsequent tasks was reduced in any way.

In a series of experiments they discovered that participants who had been asked to resist temptation made more errors in later tasks. The academics say their findings have significant implications for workplace productivity.

They suggest that if employers ban the internet they should make it unavailable. If this is not possible or impractical then employees should be allowed a certain amount of time on the internet for personal use each day, much like regular coffee breaks.

The full paper, Harvard Business School Research Paper No. 11-090, can be found on the Social Science Research Network.

The full article is here.


Bucciol, Houser and Piovesan are geniuses, and they should have their likenesses honored on massive public monuments. I would like to contribute to that effort. You know, when I get around to it. Later. After my break.

Dilbert loves them.

Tyler, the authors' claim "that having been exposed to a forbidden temptation – such as surfing the net for personal use – employees’ productivity on subsequent tasks was reduced in any way" can apparently be extended to public employees that have been rewarded by politicians' generosity. Read this NYT editorial
and please tell me if there has been any increase in NYC public employees' productivity in the past 30 years (since the city's fiscal crisis of the 1970s).
BTW, read carefully the NYT editorial and compare it with other editorials about similar problems and solutions in other US states and cities.

My wife is a part of an intensive care team that recently had the internet, as well as many key issues of autonomy, taken from them at work. I told her that productivity was going to decrease for a couple reasons, and I was right:
1. They are no longer in ownership of their schedule-determination, nor their own discipline - they experience criticism for doing things that management has told them to do
2. They don't have an outlet to 'clear their minds' in the brief interludes, a purpose that the internet serves. I would further add that, without the internet, workers can probably get along fine - because they find ways to 'meditate' in brief interludes with whatever is available - even if it means staring at the wall for a few moments (I know I've done this before when I was in construction). But taking away current outlets that are used this way causes a lag in employee adjustment, I think, which hampers productivity.

Probably the most important points to take away from this are that employees need autonomy within a reasonable framework to provide consistently quality labor. This seems obvious to me, but simply because I've seen it happen over and over again. It's good to see that these researchers are trying to put numbers on the topic.

It seems you disagree with these researchers, since they found that completely banning the internet INCREASES productivity. Telling people not to use it when it's available decreased productivity.

I recall a study that indicated self-discipline is related to the amount of sugar in the blood. The more self-discipline you exercise now, the less you have later. This result might have something to do with that result.

This summary suggests that they haven't supported their conclusions. They have shown that

Productivity(Internet unavailable) > Productivity(Internet available but banned)

They then conclude that employers should not ban internet use if the internet is still available. However, this conclusion doesn't follow. Actually being allowed to surf the web may cause an even greater decrease in productivity than the mere temptation to do so. And why would allowing internet "coffee breaks" remove the temptation to surf at other times?

Well the more browse the web the fewer bugs I make. Oh sorry that's just because I write less code. (smile I'm kidding)

Does blocking access even matter. My employer blocks some sites (very few), but if it's something I want to see - I whip out my phone and check it out. I think these policies accomplish very little. I would be interested to know if the people without access just used other means.

How does this approach compare to providing motivation, inspiration, and clear direction and then measuring based on outcomes not process?

Do employees work better or worse when micromanaged so intensly that their employer meters the time they spend on breaks?

If you ask me, monitoring your employees' time in detail is with very few exceptions leadership for the lazy and in general misses the point on how to make human beings productive.

Well the more browse the web the fewer bugs I make. Oh sorry that’s just because I write less code. (smile I’m kidding)

Only because Lemmy you believe you should get paid for not working, it's a common white collar mistake that you don't seen in labor intensive jobs.

Really I don't know why employers just don't give up on the 40 hour work week for white collar positions. I keep seeing study after study people spend 50%+ of their time slacking off on the internet, water cooler, smoke breaks, etc so why not just make it formal and pay them full time for 20 hours of work and then hold them actually accountable for being productive during that time. Seems like you would get the same effort from your folk but cut down on secondary costs (utilities, commute, etc).

Most white collar jobs aren't paid by the hour. You aren't paying for the guy's time; you are paying for his motivation, creativity, etc. Make your assessment goal oriented rather than hour oriented.

Peter, that is not a "white collar mistake". That is precisely the definition of white collar! White collar workers are paid for creativity and not for time spent behind the desk. Can you imagine a writer being paid by the line of text he/she produces? Or by time they spend writing something? Can you imagine what kind of crap they would produce (and how slowly) if that was true?

It is the same for computer programmers, engineers, etc.

12attx TYVM you've solved all my problems

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