Cyberloafing can buffer some of the negative effects of workplace aggression

New research suggests that employees use cyberloafing to cope with abusive and stressful workplace conditions, such as being treated in a disrespectful manner or facing unreasonable deadlines. The findings appear in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

“We were interested in this topic because most often cyberloafing (using the internet at work for non-work purposes) is considered a counterproductive type of work behavior,” said study author Stephanie A. Andel, an assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

“It is assumed that employees are intentionally trying to waste company time. However, we thought that cyberloafing might have a positive side as well and decided to explore it.”

For the study, the researchers surveyed 258 university students regarding their cyberloafing habits, exposure to workplace aggression, job satisfaction, and other factors. All of the participants were working a minimum of 20 hours per week.

Andel and her colleagues found that those who reported facing more workplace aggression tended to report lower job satisfaction and have more frequent thoughts about quitting. However, this relationship was moderated by cyberloafing behaviors.

In other words, participants who faced workplace aggression but engaged in more cyberloafing tended to have greater job satisfaction compared to participants who faced workplace aggression but engaged in less cyberloafing.

“Our study suggests that cyberloafing may benefit employees and organizations alike. This is because engaging in cyberloafing can help employees cope with work stress by providing them with a mini-break,” Andel explained to PsyPost.

“In particular, we focused on victims of workplace abuse (e.g., being bullied, threatened, or yelled at). Workplace abuse is a pervasive issue despite policies and procedures designed to curb these types of events. We found that victims of abuse engage in cyberloafing in order to cope with the resulting stress.”

“Additionally, victims of workplace abuse who engaged in cyberloafing were more satisfied with their jobs and less likely to leave the organization compared to victims who did not engage in cyberloafing. These results suggest that both employees and organizations can benefit from employees engaging in some degree of cyberloafing,” Andel said.

“Of course, we believe that organizational leaders should focus efforts on eliminating workplace abuse altogether. In the meantime though, allowing some degree of cyberloafing seems to be an effective way for employees to cope with these negative experiences.”

The new research is not the first study to indicate that cyberloafing can be a coping mechanism. Another study has provided evidence that cyberloafing can help employees cope with workplace boredom.

But there is still much to learn about cyberloafing.

“We don’t know if certain types of cyberloafing behaviors are more effective than others. For instance, does watching a cat video or chatting with a friend help an employee cope with work stress more effectively than reading the news?” Andel said.

“We focused on stress resulting from workplace abuse. We don’t know if cyberloafing helps employees cope with other types of work stress such as receiving unclear instructions or lacking the proper tools to complete a task.”

“We found that victims of workplace abuse who engage in some degree of cyberloafing are more satisfied with their job and less likely to leave the organization. We don’t know if these same results extend to other types of employee outcomes, such as job performance,” Andel added.

The study, “Is cyberloafing more complex than we originally thought? Cyberloafing as a coping response to workplace aggression exposure“, was authored by Stephanie A. Andel, Stacey R. Kessler, Shani Pindek, Gary Kleinman, and Paul E. Spector.