The Web is a double-edged sword. With its salient business benefits, the web carries arguably the most irresistible distraction for employees. Employees spending hours wandering on the web is a headache to managers; however, policing the organization to keep them at bay now presents a dilemma.
Many organizations restrict internet usage during office hours, or selectively make provisions based on their employees business needs. This means, employees are required to wait until the end-day to watch Malinga’s latest hat-trick on YouTube or to check the latest photos uploaded on Facebook of the previous night out with office mates.
The dilemma surfaces with a surprising finding from a recent paper published by three researchers from Harvard Business School, University of Verona and George Mason University (a)
“Delaying gratification actually has a negative impact on employee performance” say these researchers, concluding that forbidding access to these tempting web sites results in employees resisting gratification, which in-turn has a negative impact on employee productivity.
Harvard researchers suggest that employers either provide a certain amount of time for personal internet browsing or give regular internet breaks in order to strike a balance.
Though the concept is nice on paper, the devil is in its implementation. The challenge would be to strike the right balance; to lend freedom but not to let it be abused. Complex policies can hinder their own effectiveness.
We are transcending from information age to conceptual age; there is a rapid growth of knowledge workers in our organizations who could be persuaded to make rational decisions independently. In this light, what if autonomy is given to employees to manage the time they spent on recreational web? Would Self-Policing be the answer we are looking for?
Self-policing or self-regulation as some would term, has been a practice of good corporate governance. Can we instill the culture of self-policing in employees? Will it give them the much needed freedom to give-in to their temptations and to work productively thereafter? Autonomy fostering productivity makes sense, as it constitutes a vital ingredient of intrinsic motivation.
In our opinion, the success, lies in the culture we instill in the organization, where employees are given the right and responsibility to self-regulate and where the CIO’s mandate would be to facilitate it. What if we can introduce systems to help employees to keep tab of their own internet activity on YouTube or on Facebook? What if we communicate to all employees their weekly spend on recreational web at the end of each week? Will this not help employees to self-regulate?
The texture and context of messaging will be a key to success and can differ with the goals the management sets to achieve.
A friendly e-mail;
“Hi Sara, your total time spend on recreational web for last week is 1 hour and 40 minutes” may actually help employees to keep tab of their recreational web browsing and self-regulate.
Self-policing would be effective among majority of knowledge workers, but there will always be an odd drifter. It is important to have a consensus among the management of the leeway given to employees. However, caution should be taken not communicate a pre-defined quota to employees, which would defeat the purpose of self-policing and autonomy. There is a high chance that any pre-defined quota would be interpreted as a free-ticket by the employees.
Deterrents could effectively be used to keep the drifters at bay. Supervisors could be alerted of consistently high recreational web users, so that supervisors can then rationalize their behavior. If such behavior has no rationale, deterrents could be used effectively.
A more assertively crafted message;
“Hi Sara, in the last 40 working hours you have spent 4 hours on recreational web. We are trying to help you manage your own time” may be used as a deterrent.
We believe the probability of success of self-policing will be high wherever the knowledge workers are a majority. If successful, this will provide an answer to the dilemma today’s CIOs are facing:
“Should we regulate to arrest un-productively, which has proven to hinder productivity?” Or, should we opt for self-policing and autonomy which could foster productivity?
What do you think? Let us know your views.
Reach us on firstname.lastname@example.org or post your comments to discuss more.
(a) “Temptation at Work” – Harvard Business School. http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6668.html
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