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Why it pays to be a slacker August 17, 2008

Filed under: Work culture — Nicole @ 7:02 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today , for the first time in a long time I felt like a school girl complete with carefree giggle and that all important packet of chocolate coated raisins. And it had nothing to do with tying my hair in pig-tails or shining Toughees weary from too much hop-scotch. It was because after much pleading and moaning my 7 class mates and I convinced my lecturer to let us go on a BP run. Don’t bother looking it up. BP run is not something you’ll find in a dictionary. But mention it to just about anyone in Grahamstown and they will have an understanding of the adventure that awaits those who embark on one of these infamous runs.


See, in Grahamstown very few shops remain open at night. In fact, after 9 o’clock it is only at BP, a small 24-hour convenience store, where one can find the necessary snacks, treats and things to nibble on. But visiting BP after hours is never just about what you can buy. It’s about the break. About strolling up one of the store’s three very short isles, immersed in the world of retail therapy suspending any thought of work.


And so that is what my classmates and I embarked on. Okay, so we didn’t actually go to BP. There was no need. It was still morning and other stores were open. But it gave us a bit of a break from our seminar. And so for about 15 minutes I got to think about whether I wanted apple or peach juice to go with the packet of chocolate coated raisins I had picked out. Then it was back to the labs where the lecture continued.


You probably think we are a bunch of slackers. But you try sitting cooped up in the artificial environment that is our lab for three hours with only the odd 5 or 10 minute break. I imagine you’d be begging to go on a BP run too. I can tell you I certainly felt more alive and I doubt I am the only one.


For those of us we aren’t lucky enough to telecommute it’s important to schedule some BP run time into your work schedule. And no, I am not joking. There is evidence which suggests that your working environment can affect your productivity. The 2008 ITWeb salary survey indicates that the second most important thing for job satisfaction after being challenged at work is the job environment.


And employers need to keep this in mind for often the success of their business depends on the people they employ. Which makes me wonder, why employers would deny access to Facebook and other social networking sites? Yes, some employers actually use Sophos’ controlled applications, for example, to block or limit internet access to social networking sites.


OK, so there are employees who may sit at their desks from 9-5 doing nothing but updating their Facebook status or perhaps searching for porn. These are individuals known as cyberslackers and they should be dealt with. But there must be a more constructive way of curbing cyberslacking without an outright ban on social networking sites.


See what employers fail to understand is that social networking sites, when used in moderation, are the best type of BP run. Think about it. A virtual BP run which revives without the mess or fuss of leaving the office. It seems counter-intuitive to ban sites which can stimulate creativity and this is unlikely to solve the problem. According to some research published by Ohio State University :


Just as very short naps have been demonstrated to revive mental activity, perhaps short virtual breaks for a quick hand of solitaire, a note to a friend, an exploration of the online deal of the day, or a check on a sports score might refresh and invigorate many individuals’ work and productivity.


Interestingly enough, this research paper from Ohio State University also indicates that it is higher-status employees who are more likely do engage in cyberslacking because they aren’t supervised and have more work-privacy. It’s therefore ironic for those in more senior positions to be policing other employees. And all these bans on internet access do is foster an environment of mistrust something that’s not conducive to being productive.


But employers need to realise that allowing employees to access sites like Facebook is not just about virtual BP runs or company camaraderie. Oh, it’s so much more than that. Social networking sites, like Facebook, are likely to become essential tools for the office of the 21st century. These tools allow employees to network with others from different companies – and that could come in handy. And then there is the question of being with-it. See, allowing your employees to use social-networking tools means they won’t be left behind. And some companies, like KPMG , are starting to see the light. KPMG’s director of marketing, communications and corporate social investment, Carl Ballot says:

Initially, we blocked access to these Web sites over concerns of security and productivity loss. However, we are seeing a new generation entering our workforce, which interacts in a whole new way. They are a product of a changing world, which we are eager to recognise and adapt to.


So it shouldn’t surprise you to discover that over the last two weeks, in the UK alone there has been a 500% increase in streaming traffic as office workers watch the Olympics online. The modern office is not just about the humdrum of work. And employees need to face facts: distractions and procrastination are now part of the modern 9-5 working day. But have no fear. I managed to it quite successfully. Yes, I ate my chocolate coated raisins, drank my juice, took lecture notes and even did some IM (instant messaging) on the side. And in all honesty, I’d recommend taking such a BP run to an office worker any day.


3 Responses to “Why it pays to be a slacker”

  1. Francois Says:

    Hi Nicole

    I think you’ve convinced me! 🙂

    I do see why it’s good to allow your employees to access social networking sites.

    I think the important thing is to select good employees, who won’t abuse this freedom, and rather use it to their favor and also the company’s favor.

    If you’ve got good people working for you, there shouldn’t be much need to police them. No?


  2. letwwwbeyournewboss Says:

    Francois ,

    I agree with you. But I think it is a little more complex than just selecting good employees. Things like office environment can affect employees’ attitudes and their productivity. I think it is about fostering a sense of office camaraderie.

    In my opinion people would be less likely to cyberslack if they felt valued and as though they were part of a team.


  3. Jude Mathurine Says:

    While i agree with some of the psychological benefits of cyber slacking, this debate cannot be limited to productivity lost by employees who may not be able to multi task between work and online habits. There are also very real costs related to the use and abuse of bandwidth in low band environments where margins are low, bandwidth is bought in bulk and capped and between 25 to 45 percent of staff online use is not related to their work function. This ought to change when connectivity costs drop below a certain threshold for small and large companies (for example avusa, independent and e have all banned certain social sites).

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