Why banning social and web usage at work doesn’t increase productivity

Fifty-nine per cent of Indian employees use the internet for personal work during office hours. In Singapore, the figure is 53 per cent and, in the Middle East, 37 per cent. That’s according to a recent survey of more than 25,000 employees in India, the Middle East and Singapore.

The survey found that 32 per cent of employees spend 12 to 14 hours a week managing share portfolios online, 29 per cent spend 11 to 12 hours doing online shopping, and 21 per cent spend seven to eight hours a week searching for holidays.

The survey, conducted by, was probably meant to provoke the reaction it did: shock and horror.  All of those lost hours of productivity! What is the world coming to? It probably spurred on many managers to draft company policy banning ‘time wasting websites’ from corporate networks. But, to do so may well end up decreasing productivity.

There are a number of very persuasive studies on productivity at work that show that people who browse the web in work breaks are more productive than those who continue working. Small diversions from concentrated work tasks can be a productivity booster. We can’t work productively for eight hours a day – in fact studies suggest that we work most productively in 90 minute cycles. Do more than that without a break and we may become less productive – a coffee break, cigarette break or Facebook break, it makes no difference. Switching off from work for a short period of time can recharge your mental batteries.

Banning is not the right thing

It’s obvious really. Planning a holiday, checking your Facebook page, having a chat to the person next to you, is all part of the social glue that keeps us going. We’re social creatures, so if we didn’t talk to people our productivity would probably plummet. For example, one supermarket that banned night-shift shelf stackers (try saying that after three mojitos!) from talking to each other in order to increase productivity ended up losing all their shelf stackers – resulting in a significant productivity slump! Talking actually helped them to be more productive.

Of course that’s not an excuse to distract yourself to death at work. Sometimes staff do need monitoring, other times they can and should be trusted to get their job done.

Banning websites is not necessarily the right thing to do for another reason as well. One of the consequences of consumerisation is that people bring their own networked devices to work – their smartphones, tablet computers and so on. If you ban them from accessing sites through corporate networks, people simply access them through their own providers’ networks. So, managers have to decide which is best:

  • Measuring and monitoring usage so that people who don’t deliver can be managed appropriately,
  • Or having no real idea of what people are doing.


Knowing what someone is doing is very useful. If people aren’t doing their job effectively then a reason can be found for this and a conversation had. So, managers take note: give your employees a break. If everyone did it, who knows – maybe we could boost Britain’s productivity by a few percentage points.


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