March Madness and Productivity (revisited)

Every year right around now, business-oriented news sources like to offer statistics on the loss of productivity related to March Madness, office pools, and other similar activities. I’ve blogged my thoughts on this before. But just when I was thinking about filling out a bracket this year, another related productivity article in the WSJ caught my attention.

Basically, ASU researchers have come up with software that discourages workers from spending time online at work doing things that aren’t job related – or as they style it,”cyberloafing”. According to the article, the software works when added to a company’s network by dividing “the Internet into sites that employees can always, sometimes, or never visit, and uses on-screen warnings to give employees reminders when they are visiting sites that may not be work-related.” The software also tracks the total minutes spent on a website in the day and blocks access after 90 total minutes that can only be overridden with supervisor approval.

While I suppose that this is an effective way for dealing with sites that should just probably never be visited at work, and is also a fine way to allow a “reasonable” amount of time on social media sites that are often necessary or beneficial for a job, I’m usually leery of any method that addresses workplace productivity from the prohibition/controlling side of the equation. It’s also a slippery slope of trying to automate effective management and supervision.

I’m a bigger fan of initiatives that create more employee engagement or set clear expectations for productivity with fewer restrictions on how and when it gets done. Frankly, hours worked (or the amount of time spent on work during a work day) is not the goal of any important job I can think of – instead it’s quality and quantity of output that is most important. So a person that cyberloafs more and delivers quality work on time is more valuable than a person that doesn’t cyberloaf at all but disappoints in terms of results. And for anyone who thinks that without time spent cyberloafing a good employee will deliver more quality work, that’s not necessarily true.

In a nutshell, my advice to managers and leaders is to concentrate on engagement and/or making clear expectations about performance without resorting to trying to control the minute-by-minute or even hour by hour behavior of your people. You will experience higher morale and have a better grasp on the abilities and shortcoming of your people, which can be leveraged accordingly.