Productivity in the workplace is falling. If people were as productive as they were just ten years ago, businesses would be producing 20% more outputs than the were in 2009. But they are not. Economists are busy discussing the productivity conundrum because what is going on around the world these days does not appear to fit with their models which have worked quite well for many years.
There is increasing evidence that the Internet is to blame. People get easily distracted from work, thanks to the attractions of the Internet. Plus, tools like email take longer to achieve things than the same tasks take without electronic communications. Email provides an illusion of work, but it is a massive time waster.
So, it is no surprise that many companies have tried to limit the online activities of their staff. Many firms, for instance, ban access to social networks in the office. Other businesses forbid staff from using their mobiles during work hours. These kinds of policies are designed to ensure that employees concentrate on work and do not spend time on their personal online activities.
However, there is no evidence that such bans work. Indeed, there are increasing findings that such “command and control” policies further reduce productivity. The bans on social media or using a mobile at work appear to be making things worse, not better.
New research shows it is not about the Internet
It is useful to look at some new findings which reveal the cause of the problem. In this study, the use of the Internet for personal activities during office time was investigated. Interestingly, the researchers also looked at job satisfaction. The findings are fascinating.
It turns out that when people enjoy their job, being able to access personal online activities actually improves their performance. However, when people do not enjoy their job, their work performance declines.
In other words, productivity in the workplace is IMPROVED when people access personal online activities but ONLY if they enjoy their job.
Bosses – this is important…!
Far from banning people from accessing social media during work, it should be allowed. You’ll soon discover one thing – a change in productivity.
If productivity goes up, then you know that your staff enjoy their work. But if accessing personal sites online harms your office performance it is a clear message that job satisfaction is lower than you might think.
This should come as no surprise. Many studies on a variety of influences on workplace performance and productivity have shown that the mediating factor is job satisfaction. If people enjoy their work, they perform well.
What the productivity statistics really mean
The productivity statistics show static growth over many years in many countries. The blame has been the Internet – and it certainly plays a role.
However, this new study suggests that the reason why we are less productive than we ought to be is that the Internet is more attractive than our jobs.
Job design and the tasks we expect people to do these days are pretty much the same as they were decades ago. The world around us has changed, but jobs are designed in rather old-fashioned ways. Add to that increased “command and control” management styles and you can sense a decrease in job satisfaction.
It is true that many people do enjoy their jobs. Plus in many modern firms job design is up-to-date and innovative. Those kinds of companies are doing well and bucking the productivity trends.
However, if productivity and performance in your office is not where you want it to be, rather than control the Internet, you’ll do better if you investigate job satisfaction and design jobs for the modern world.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+