Millennial cyberloafing: Why it’s costly & how to approach the problem

By: Jacqueline Jung

With access to technology and the internet nearly ubiquitous in the modern workforce, organizations are struggling with a relatively new phenomenon: cyberloafing. Cyberloafing is the use of technology at work for non-work-related purposes (e.g., checking social media, watching YouTube videos). Cyberloafing may reduce productivity and has been estimated to cost U.S. organizations $85 billion annually (Zakrzewski, 2016). On the other hand, employees born between 1981 and 1995 (i.e., Millenials), grew up with the internet and constant access to technology, and may, to some extent, expect to have this continued liberty at work. The question then remains: how can organizations mitigate the negative effects of cyberloafing while still attracting and retaining millennials, who will soon make up the majority of the U.S. workforce?

For millennials, technology may be viewed as inseparable from communication and entertainment; texting is the standard mode of communication, and sporting events, music, and games can all be accessed through a smartphone (PEW Research, 2009). Millennials also prefer to use the internet to learn new information, more so than their colleagues from previous generations who prefer traditional, structured training (Prosperio & Gioia, 2007). Millennials also do not hold the same work values as other generations–they view work as less important to their identity and place a stronger priority on leisure and work-life balance compared to previous generations (Twenge, Campbell, Hoffman & Lance, 2010). Taken together, this suggests that addressing cyberloafing may be particularly challenging when considering Millennial employees.

Two opposing organizational approaches toward cyberloafing organizations are deterrence and laissez-faire. Deterrence policies limit technology use through stringent monitoring and surveillance, while laissez-faire policies encourage little to no interference or surveillance from the company. 66% of firms claim to monitor Internet use at work (American Management Association, 2008), and while regulation may increase productivity, too much can be counterproductive (e.g., Henle, Kohut, Booth, 2009). Deterrence strategies, such as stringent technology use policies may lead to millennials’ erosion of trust in the organization because surveillance is viewed as an indication of distrust, and millennials view technology as a right that should not be blocked (Coker, 2013). Strict monitoring may also be seen as an encroachment upon Millennials’ desire for work-life balance. Therefore, a zero tolerance for personal technology use may make it difficult to attract Millennials to an organization and may increase turnover intentions among Millenials within the organization (e.g., Henle et al., 2009).

A laissez-faire approach, on the other hand, leaves employees susceptible to the myriad of negative outcomes of technological distractions. Henle and colleagues (2009) suggest that technology may reduce individuals’ attention toward their tasks, and cyberloafing may reduce the amount of time individuals have to complete their tasks, thereby increasing employee stress. Ultimately, employees’ unrestricted access to personal technology use may lead to a decline in organizational performance (Raisch, 2009).

There are viable solutions, however. For example, organizations can establish a clear technology use policy and train millennials as well as their managers on both the benefits and drawbacks of personal technology use at work. When seeking to create this policy, organizations should form an internal committee that includes employees in order to reach an agreed-upon and mutually beneficial stance. This may reduce the likelihood that employees will react negatively to the final policy, since they were a part of its creation (Corgnet, Hernan-Gonzalez & McCarter, 2015). Finally, organizations must provide relevant training on policies and best practices to both employees and managers to ensure standardization and compliance.

References

Coker, B. (2013). Workplace internet leisure browsing. Human Performance, 26(2), 114-125.

Corgnet, B., Hernan-Gonzalez R., & McCarter, M. W. (2015). The role of decision-making regime on cooperation in a workgroup social dilemma: An examination of cyberloafing. Games, 6, 588-603.

“Generations Online in 2009.” Pew Research Center, Washington D.C. (January 28, 2009). http://www.pewinternet.org/2009/01/28/generations-online-in-2009/.

Kim, S. (2018). Managing millennials’ personal use of technology at work. Business Horizons, 61(2), 261-270.

Proserpio, L. & Gioia, D. (2007). Teaching the virtual generation. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 6(1), 69-80.

Raisch, S. (2009). Organizational ambidexterity: Balancing exploitation and exploration for sustained performance. Organization Science, 20(4), 685-695.

Twenge, J., Campbell, S., Hoffman, B., & Lance, C. (2010). Generational differences in work values: Leisure and extrinsic values increasing, social and intrinsic values decreasing. Journal of Management, 36(5), 1117-1142.

Zakrzewski, J. L. (2016). Using iPads to your advantage. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 21(8), 480-483.

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