Lost sleep and cyberloafing

Employees constantly face the temptation to surf the Web for entertainment while at work, but they’re more prone to cyberloafing when they’re low on sleep, a new study says.

“There are many ways to cyberloaf,” says management assistant professor Chris Barnes. “Overcoming the temptation to watch videos on YouTube or check out celebrity gossip requires self-control, and people are less effective in exerting self-control when they don’t get enough sleep. Therefore, they are more vulnerable to the temptation to cyberloaf.”

Indeed, Barnes and other researchers found a significant spike in entertainment web searches on the Monday immediately following the switch to daylight saving time in the spring. Their research was based on an analysis of Google searches in a five-year period as well as a lab study they conducted to more directly test lost sleep as the reason for the spike. “In the laboratory, we found that low quantities of sleep and poor quality sleep were both associated with cyberloafing,” Barnes says.

The findings have important implications for labor productivity, he notes. “Daylight saving time is a policy used by more than 70 countries. Thus, the lost productivity could be staggeringly large in the aggregate. Moreover, even outside of the daylight saving time effect, there is a clear association between lost sleep and cyberloafing. Working on less than a full night of sleep is all too common.”

Policy makers, he adds, should reconsider the costs and benefits of daylight saving time. “Daylight saving time is a policy intended to move daylight hours to match human activity. However, accumulating research indicates that we are overlooking many of the costs of daylight saving time.

“The internal clocks that regulate our sleep and waking activity persist even when we change the clocks on our walls. Thus, when we move the clock ahead an hour in the spring, we still don’t get sleepy until we normally would. So, on the Monday right after the switch to daylight saving time, people come in to work with less sleep than they normally would.”

Managers, Barnes says, should also consider the costs of lost sleep. “Having people work long shifts well into the night may lead to lost productivity from cyberloafing.”

The study, “Lost Sleep and Cyberloafing: Evidence From the Laboratory and a Daylight Saving Time Quasi-Experiment,” was co-authored with David T. Wagner, of Singapore Management University; Vivien K. G. Lim, National University of Singapore; and D. Lance Ferris, of Penn State; and was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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