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Web browsing will help your office profit


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POSTED: Monday, April 06, 2009

Workplace prejudice is a pernicious thing because it festers from a place so deep down it often sneaks through disguised as common sense.

For example, I have no idea how General Motors picked its new CEO, but I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that none of the top five contenders had a mohawk.

Knee-jerk disqualifiers like that will never disappear completely. It's a factor worth considering for anyone tempted to get a face tattoo on the eve of a job fair.

But does all this mean Digital Slobs should also stop surfing the Web at work?

In today's economy the threat of being laid off (or the survivor's guilt for not) is forcing many to rethink on-the-clock downtime.

Standing at the water cooler gossiping about a co-worker's alleged out-of-wedlock pregnancy might be more insidious than updating your Facebook status, but it's still a less irritating visual for many higher-ups.

However, Reuters reported last week on a new study from the University of Melbourne that in essence says “;keep on surfin'.”; In fact, if you're slacking off on slacking off on the job, you might be harming both yourself and your company's bottom line.

Researcher Brent Coker says that people who partake in “;workplace Internet leisure browsing,”; or WILB, are almost 10 percent more productive than those who don't, and 70 percent of workers who use the Internet in the office are “;guilty”; of WILB.

Even if it represents up to 20 percent of the workday, WILB still yields productivity gains.

Basically, the research suggests most Information Age workers get more done if they work in 100 mph spurts with many scenic stops, compared with others who cruise at a constant, comfy 50 mph or so, pulling over only for the occasional potty break.

In this measured metaphor, both the tortoises and the hares would finish the daily rat race in a dead heat (though 50 mph seems generous for any land-dwelling reptile — hence the productivity gap).

But here's where the prejudice comes in — who roots for the hare in that story? I saw the Bugs Bunny version as a kid (not to mention last week on YouTube at my workstation), and I love watching that rabbit finally get a taste of his own medicine.

Similarly, a boss strolling the perimeter is likely to favor a catatonic salesperson duct-taped to his chair over a top earner playing “;World of Warcraft”; between conference calls.

Clearly, the ace is resting on his laurels, while at least the CEO's nephew is now parked at an angle that keeps his drool off the keyboard.

In fairness to captains of industry, “;giving your all”; at work used to be a figure of speech. Now a literal job requirement, it's a bit disconcerting to see that many of our “;alls”; include a passion for eBay garden gnomes.

Armed with actual science or not, attempting to separate the top brass from their entrenched, common-sense-coated so-called certainties is not for the faint of heart, as you might suspect.

Perhaps in the end it might help to remind them that business is all a numbers game — and 15 minutes of “;Tetris”; taken five times daily helps you keep them in the black.

If that fails, offer to shave off your mohawk as a trade.

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Subscribe to columnist Curt Brandao's Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/digitalslob.