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cyberloafing

noun [uncountable]

using the Internet where you work, during working hours, for activities which are not work-related

cyberloaf

verb [intransitive]

cyberloafer

noun [countable]

'Are you a Cyberloafer? … Cyberloafing is anytime you're on the web at work doing non-work-related activities. The study finds that 60 to 80 percent of the time workers spend on the Internet on the job is spent doing things that have nothing to do with work.'

NBC WKTV News 4th February 2013

'About 97% of men and 85% of women reported that it was acceptable for employees to cyberloaf at the workplace. In general, our findings suggested that men cyberloafed more frequently and for longer duration than women.'

NUS Business School [Singapore] November 2009

How many of us could honestly say that we spend every moment of our working hours industriously involved in some work-related activity? A cuppa and a brief chat, a quick phone call to fix a dental appointment or social engagement … – we all take this kind of liberty from time to time, and usually without consequence. But in the 21st century there's a distraction at our fingertips like nothing ever experienced by previous generations. We can shop, read the news, talk to friends, check our bank balance, watch TV … and all as we tap away at a keyboard with our eyes glued to the screen. To the less keen observer, we might even appear to be beavering away at some professional task or other. Could you, in fact, be guilty of just such a deception as you read this BuzzWord article? If so then fear not, because you're in good company. It seems that hundreds of millions of us are regularly giving in to this irresistible temptation. Making personal use of the Internet during working hours is now a commonplace activity, and it's known as cyberloafing.

managing cyberloafing presents a tricky dilemma for employers in the 21st century. Employee morale … can be adversely affected when workers feel that someone is constantly looking over their shoulder

In early 2013, a study undertaken by researchers at Kansas State University revealed that the average US employee spends between 60 and 80 per cent of their time at work cyberloafing. The survey revealed that older people tended towards activities like managing their finances, whereas younger employees spent time on Facebook or other social networking sites.

Cyberloafing can cost employers a great deal of money in lost productivity, and can also incur expense in relation to legal liability if pornography or other inappropriate material has been accessed on office computers. To counter this practice, surveillance software is sometimes used to monitor employees' online activities. Another strategy is to install proxy servers which prevent access to inappropriate material, instant messaging, gambling sites, etc. Disciplinary measures are sometimes also used, and in extreme cases employees are dismissed.

Though such measures often prove effective, managing cyberloafing presents a tricky dilemma for employers in the 21st century. Employee morale (and therefore productivity) can be adversely affected when workers feel that someone is constantly looking over their shoulder with a kind of 'Big Brother' mentality. It's therefore often difficult for employers to strike the right balance between maintaining productivity and respecting employee privacy and personal freedom.

Background – cyberloafing

The term cyberloafing first emerged during the mid nineties among a proliferation of words created by productive use of the prefix cyber- to describe things relating to computers or the Internet, (e.g.: cybercafé, cyberspace). The word cyberslacking is a lexical variant, and if you've been a reader of this column for a number of years and are now getting a sense of déjà vu, then that might be because we first examined this concept back in 2004. The verbs loaf and slack both refer to the action of spending time avoiding work, but interestingly, though the word slack is perhaps more widely used than loaf in a general context, cyberloafing seems to have overtaken cyberslacking in this specific scenario of avoiding work by spending time on the Web.

In the nine years since we first looked at the concept of cyberloafing, the issue has become far more significant, galvanized by high-speed web access and the revolution in social media. At the turn of the millennium, it was estimated that cyberloafing accounted for nearly a third of workers' time. By early 2013, this statistic had more than doubled.

A further synonym for the same concept is the expression goldbricking. This term takes inspiration from a con trick in which a gold coating is applied to a brick of worthless metal. The analogy is therefore that, even though an employee may give the outward appearance of being industrious, in reality they are less 'valuable' because of their lack of productivity.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 21st May 2013.

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