UK risks becoming a nation of cyberloafers

New Communications Technologies, Social Networking Sites and Online Marketplaces Threaten Workplace Productivity, Study Reveals.

The UK risks becoming a nation of cyberloafers, according to a new study, as new communications tools such as Instant Messaging, social networking sites and online marketplaces are distracting employees from doing their jobs during the working day.  The study, conducted by the Centre for the Study of Media Technology and Culture, an affiliate of Lancaster University, revealed that over a quarter of the nation spends over four hours each week using the Internet for personal purposes during work time, whilst nearly five percent spend over 24 hours each week.

The study, entitled Work Access Open to Influence: Creating a Boundary-less Workplace was designed to provide an in-depth analysis of the contemporary workplace and its interrelationship with the home examining how the boundaries between the two are gradually dissolving.

Online purchasing and Instant Messaging were identified as two of the biggest distractions for employees during their working day and attitudes were mixed with regard to using work time for personal activities. 

The research revealed:

  • 63 percent of employees talked to their friends and family using Instant Messenger during the day and 80 percent felt that doing so made them less productive
  • 87 percent of employees made private purchases during work hours
  • One in five disagreed with the following statement:  I do not want to spend too much time at work doing non-work related activities.

There is no question that the boundaries between home and work are gradually being broken down, said Professor Michael K. Hulme, Director of the Centre for the Study of Media Technology and Culture and Hon Professor and Associate Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Lancaster University.  Whilst employees are spending more time at work using the Internet and communications tools for personal means, they are also allowing work to intrude into their personal time, often without financial reward.  As a result, many businesses overlook this cyberloafing because of the willingness of employees to work outside contracted hours.

The research went on to reveal:

  • Unpaid overtime is rife amongst UK workforce:  85 percent of employees work overtime with 55 percent doing so unpaid.  One in five work seven hours or more above their contracted hours each week
  • Home and work lives unavoidably overlapping:  Although employees try to set strict deadlines and police themselves about when and where they work, these boundaries are frequently undermined.  79 percent of directors felt that their home and work lives were overlapping
  • Use of online banking and marketplaces dominate working day:  Over 60 percent of the sample used eBay at least once a week during work hours to bid on items whilst 23 percent used it once a day or more.  Over eighty percent used online banking at work at least once a week with 30 percent using it at least once a day

The study also revealed that a substantial number of firms were employing some form of surveillance technology or limiting access to the Internet altogether to control the extent to which employees used the Internet for personal purposes.  Over 50 percent of employees firms had some kind of monitoring, restrictions or no access whatsoever.

Surveillance techniques are important to try and make people comply with norms of acceptable behaviour but the onus is still on the employee to exercise enough self control and know where the boundaries are with regard to the personal use of work resources, added Hulme.  However the high degrees of freedom being afforded to some employees could account for the volume of time these people are spending shopping online, visiting social networking sites or simply communicating with friends and family during working hours. 

The study consisted of both qualitative and quantitative research amongst a sample of 700 people working for a range of sectors across the UK.  The study was conducted in February 2007. 



The Centre for the Study of Media Technology and Culture is a private, 'International Social Insight Consultancy' specialising in future orientated research and thought.  CSMTCs  work is collaborative, working with academics, commercial organisations and thinkers from a broad range of social and technological disciplines to draw together current leading insight.

CSMTC combines its insight with making a practical difference.  Research broadly divides into two main strands - CSMTC Critical Knowledge, providing new highly interactive strategic thought and CSMTC Applied Knowledge, applying our knowledge in corporate and government settings.

About Michael Hulme

Michael Hulme is Hon Professor and Associate Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Lancaster University where he is a member of the Lancaster University Development Board. He holds an MPhil in Critical Management also from Lancaster. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Member of the Market Research Society. Michael is Director of the Centre for the Study of Media Technology and Culture, a social insight consultancy and Director of the Social Futures Observatory an independent 'think tank' closely associated with the Institute for Advanced Studies. His involvements outside social research include Chairing the Merseyside Special Investment Fund a public private partnership providing seed and growth funding to SMEs in the Merseyside region.

Michael's career began in corporate finance before moving into marketing and then strategy in the computer industry, becoming Head of Strategic Marketing in Europe's then largest financial services software house. He then became an independent entrepreneur starting, developing and selling companies in the consultancy and mobile communications industries. Whilst, during the last 10 years he has devoted most of his time to social research he has also been able to play an active role in the economic and social regeneration of the North West with a particular commitment to Cumbria.


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