Lack of Sleep May Lead to Wasted Time on the Internet at Work
In a fascinating new paper appearing in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Wagner, Barnes, Lim and Ferris investigate the link between lack of sleep and the amount of time that employees will spend wasting time on the Internet while at work – a phenomenon called cyberloafing. Using two studies – one using historical search data collected from Google Insights and another using a sample of undergraduates, Wagner and colleagues found that those who sleep less are more likely to cyberloaf the next day. They also found an interaction such that highly conscientious people were less likely to cyberloaf after a night of interrupted, poor quality sleep than less conscientious people.
In Study 1, Wagner and colleagues investigated this link by examining that longstanding arch-rival of good sleep the night before work in the United States: the hour lost when “falling back” from daylight savings time (DST) to standard time. They downloaded data from Google Insights for Search, investigating surfing habits across 3 Mondays each year over 6 years for each of 203 metro areas (the Monday following DST, plus the preceding and following Mondays). This resulted in a final dataset of search behaviors from 3492 Mondays (162 Mondays were unavailable from Google for unknown reasons). Using this dataset, they discovered that during the Mondays after the switch from DST, entertainment websites (e.g. Facebook, YouTube, ESPN.com) were browsed more often than the surrounding Mondays. There’s no way to say that this is primarily work-related surfing from the Google dataset alone, but other research cited by Wagner and colleagues indicates that 60% of entertainment website traffic is driven by surfing at work. So there’s some reason to believe that this increase represents cyberloafing.
Because that’s not terribly convincing by itself, Study 2 investigated the cyberloafing question with a more traditional correlational study. In a lab study, undergraduate sleep habits were tracked for one night with a device called an Actigraph, and the following day, the students were brought into the lab to watch a lecture video. They were told that this lecture video portrayed a professor that was being considered as a new hire, and that their feedback would help the university make this decision. The lecturers then secretly tracked how much of the 42-minute video was spent actually watching the video versus doing anything else (e.g. email, YouTube, etc.). On average, students spent 5.7 minutes cyberloafing. However, the researchers’ hypotheses were confirmed: those with poorer quality sleep and lower quantity of sleep were more likely to cyberloaf. I’ll let the researchers describe the effect sizes:
From a practical perspective, these results suggest that for every minute the participant slept the night before the lab session, the participant engaged in .05 fewer minutes cyberloafing (or 3 fewer minutes cyberloafing per hour spent sleeping). For every minute of interrupted sleep the prior night, participants engaged in .14 minutes more cyberloafing (or 8.4 more minutes cyberloafing per hour of interrupted sleep) during the task. Given that the task was 42 minutes long, an hour of disturbed sleep would on average result in cyberloafing during 20% of the assigned task, and every hour of lost sleep would result in cyberloafing during an additional 7% of the task.
That’s pretty severe for both managers and employees themselves. As a manager, poor sleep among employees is likely to lead to decreased performance. As an employee, if you get too little sleep, you may find it more difficult to self-regulate your behavior and focus on your work. Lack of sleep is bad for everyone! So what do we do about it? Once again, I’ll let the authors present it in their own words:
What is not mixed is the mounting evidence that sleepy employees do not a productive office make. Thus, we encourage policy makers to revisit the costs and benefits of implementing DST, and we encourage managers to consider how they can facilitate greater employee self-regulation by ensuring that employees get good sleep.
- D.T. Wagner, C.M. Barnes, V.K.G. Lim, & D.L. Ferris (2012). Lost sleep and cyberloafing: Evidence from the laboratory and a daylight saving time quasi-experiment Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 1068-1076 : 10.1037/a0027557 [↩]
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