Are digital distractions at work a problem?

Online activity is often cited as an issue in the workplace. Each day millions of people have continuous access to a computer or mobile device, and a good percentage of them spend at least some portion of their day putting work aside in favor of other online activities. While many people may only engage in personal business that must be tended to, others intentionally seek out external interests to distract from the workday.

Are digital distractions at work a problem? Seems to be a mixed bag.

Social Networking

In 2014 a survey conducted by Robert Half Management Resources asked the question, “Which one of the following is the greatest time-waster at work for employees?” Thirty-two percent responded non-business related Internet use (this included social media, but did not include personal email).

Facebook is likely today's biggest online distraction in the workplace, but it's not the only social network site that draws attention. Other social networks and niche-oriented sites draw people in by the millions every day. Social networking communities tend to get addicting and it is not uncommon to find people drifting away from work to “check in” on their favorite social interactions.


Speaking of email, how many people check their personal email while at work? Or give friends and family their work email address to contact them? Reading and responding to personal email at work is a huge distracting activity for many people (not to mention all the social media and other notifications that come in via email). Twenty percent of the executives who participated in the above-cited survey named email as the biggest time-waster (but this was combined with personal phone calls).

Even work emails can take up a considerable amount of time during the workday. While it's work-related, when a slew of email correspondences occur, this can get pretty distracting to getting other work done. Sometimes email is conducive to work, but other times, not so much...

Online Shopping

Many people are tempted and lured to visit online shopping sites. Online shopping is definitely not a passing fad, e-commerce has boomed with statistics rising every year. Now that mobile has also become a focus, it is easier than ever to do some perusing online at any given time of the day. This activity often spills over into the workplace and, as a result, has become a common workday distraction.


Online banking has become more the norm rather than the exception and it's easy to log on and conduct transactions; many people choose to do this during working hours. This one probably isn't too big of a digital distraction at work, but it is an activity many engage in during the workday.

News sites

Once upon a time, people purchased a newspaper on the way to work or during a commute and, while this still occurs, these days many people instead choose to get their news online. It's free, easy and, if one ends up following hyperlinks or related stories across any given publication, time can easily slip away. In the end, it can interfere with productivity levels.

Online games

Years ago, it used to be the standard equipped “solitaire” when computers first became a mainstay in the workplace. Fast-forward to 2015 and the gaming options are numerous between online and mobile apps. Aside from the whole idea of playing games when one is on the clock getting paid, games are seldom “quick”. Activities such as online banking or shopping may take only minutes, but games can go on for extended periods of time, especially if it is an addictive one.

Forum Posting and sports games

Message boards are another pastime that people engage in while online. Online communities can get quite busy and members of different forums may find themselves popping in to check out updates on discussions (especially if they get email updates) or to see what new conversations take place.

Sports games are another huge online distraction. March Madness, anyone? Usually, every year around this time, many articles about digital distractions tend to get published.

Are Digital Distractions at Work Really a Problem?

The Internet is a very useful took and companies rely on network connections to operate and do business. Unfortunately, one of the downsides to this is the fact they've added a whole new dimension of work distractions and have given new meaning to the word "slacker" at work. In fact, there is even a term for it called “cyberloafing”. Whether or not it is severe enough of a problem is up for debate.

This doesn't mean cyberloafing is necessarily a problem across the board, however, statistics and research seem to indicate digital distractions are an issue. This is not to say employers should ban employees from using the web but, as with many things in life, moderation is key. Allowing a little leeway may go a long way with people feeling it’s OK to make a quick transaction or peek in their email. However, if employees are spending too much time online and it begins to affect productivity, even the more liberal-minded employers are likely to rethink their Internet policies.


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