What is cyberloafing and how is it affecting your career?

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
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More often than not, going online can be a bit like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.

One minute you’re innocently scrolling through the Instagram feed of a girl you went to school with, wondering what she’s up to, then the next thing you know two hours have passed and you’re frantically clicking on holiday photos of complete strangers.

And while we mainly browse the web in our spare time, we’re all guilty of sneaking in some online shopping or social media stalking at our desks in the office too.

But with so many of us working computer-based jobs, it can sometimes be irresistible to lose whole hours of the day shirking responsibilities and surfing the web – and if you’re someone who sits at their desk chatting on Facebook, browsing Zara and reserving library books, you’re probably guilty of ‘cyberloafing’.

A term used to describe the act of using the internet for personal reasons at work, cyberloafing is a common way to waste an employer’s time – but the habit spells bad news for the employee, too.

According to a new study published in The Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, cyberloafing is associated with a whole slew of “dark” personality traits. Those who surf the web freely at work are more likely to be manipulative, socially exploitative, self-absorbed and narcissistic – and equally, people with these existing personality traits are also more likely to be cyberloaves themselves.

While this might sound a little dramatic, Evelyn Cotter, CEO of Seven Career Coaching, agrees that cyberloafing is a red flag for something more serious than just an addiction to online shopping.

“Cyberloafing is a compulsive behaviour for many people,” she tells Stylist. “It’s an attempt to replace something that we’re lacking, but we never get that ‘filled-up’ feeling. So it just goes on and on with the empty promise of replacing the things we actually want, like a fulfilling work day or a career in an industry we’re passionate about.”

Describing the habit as a “slippery slope”, Cotter says the open, flexible environments of modern workplaces combined with the fact that most of us use social media and the internet in our jobs, means we can slip into an “almost catatonic state” of internet browsing.

To counteract this, Cotter adds that we need to be fully engaged and passionate about our work.

“Keep your focus on the value you want to add to your role and company as a whole, in line with your bigger career vision,” she says. “If you’re authentically driven by what you’re doing, you can ensure your performance at work is your priority.”

So, how can we stop ourselves from cyberloafing online all morning at work?

The first step, Cotter says, is to take back control: “We browse online almost unconsciously and five minutes can easily turn into three hours, so the key is to make it conscious.”

To do this, you need to change your behaviour every time you find yourself falling into the trap of mindless browsing. Cotter suggests having a list of non-screen tasks you can distract yourself with, such getting up and walking around the office, picking up a pen and jotting something down, or simply helping someone else for a few minutes.

Then, to maximise your own productivity, Cotter advises “batching” similar tasks to keep you focused – for example, you could block off your mornings for research, or only schedule meetings for the afternoon.

“Categorise the tasks that take up most of your week and identify the best times of day and week to batch them together,” she says.

Finally, Cotter advises that you create deadlines for yourself to limit the amount of time you spend on tasks. She suggests putting an alarm on your phone to go off every 90 minutes to make sure you stick to your own rules.

“So much research shows us that imposing boundaries and deadlines and using timers, with tasks to move straight on to, leads to far higher productivity,” she says. “We fill our time, and that’s the slippery slope of endless internet browsing.”

Good luck, cyberloaves...

Images: iStock