What causes you to waste time on social media

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Wednesday, 7 March 2012 - Adi Gaskell

A tired employee is much more likely to waste time on social media. How alert are your employees? Adi Gaskell investigates.


Research conducted last year suggested that the average manager in Britain has nearly 50 ‘weak days’ per year.  These are days when we’re not sick, but we’re not at our best either.  A lack of sleep is a common cause of these weak days, with several studies highlighting the important part sleep plays in our workplace productivity.

What is perhaps less well known is the role sleep plays in our self control.  Various studies have indicated that a drowsy person is much more likely to display less willpower, and therefore engage in activities they ordinarily would not.

Which brings me to social media.  As you will no doubt have discovered if you read last months Professional Manager, I am a staunch advocate of allowing social media in the workplace, and indeed research by Gartner suggests that the number of companies allowing access at work is on the rise.

Social media has the power to do an awful lot of good for your organisation if it is managed well.  Of course it also provides many ways for people to not work.  New research has looked at whether we waste time more on the web when we’re tired compared to when we’re awake and alert.

They fitted participants with sleep monitors to measure the quality and quantity of sleep they had the night before the experiment.  The next day they were each asked to watch a video of a Professor giving a lecture and assessing whether the college should employ them or not.  Of course they weren’t really testing for that but rather how often the candidates engaged in other things on the web instead of doing that task.



The findings are fascinating.  The participants who had suffered a bad nights sleep, or simply not had enough, were signficantly more likely to loaf off during the subsequent days task.  The only people that didn’t were those found to have very high levels of self-control in a test conducted before the experiment.  So if you’re tired and weak willed you’re pretty liable to a bit of cyberloafing.

Of course despite this finding I hope this isn’t used as a means to bash social media, when it appears clear that the main culprit is a lack of sleep.  Given how few companies offer employees powernap time during the work day perhaps employee alertness should be as worthy a goal as employee engagement.

Adi Gaskell is Head of Online at the Process Excellence Network

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