Aware of both how tempting and also how distracting internet surfing can be, many employers ban their staff from accessing the internet for personal use during working hours. In this way they believe that employee productivity will be kept to a maximum.

But a new paper “Temptation at work” suggests that forbidding their employees from surfing the net could well be a counter-productive move.

Alessandro Bucciol from the economics departments at the University of Verona and the University of Amsterdam, Daniel Houser, a professor of economics at the George Mason University, Virginia and Marco Piovesan a research fellow at Harvard Business School, set out to discover whether, having been exposed to a forbidden temptation - such as surfing the net for personal use - employees’ productivity on subsequent tasks was reduced in any way.

In a series of experiments they discovered that participants who had been asked to resist temptation made more errors in later tasks. The academics say their findings have significant implications for workplace productivity.

They suggest that if employers ban the internet they should make it unavailable. If this is not possible or impractical then employees should be allowed a certain amount of time on the internet for personal use each day, much like regular coffee breaks.

The full paper, Harvard Business School Research Paper No. 11-090, can be found on the Social Science Research Network.

● The fear of failure haunts many business people, but a professor from Stanford Graduate School of Business argues that failure can be the spur for innovation and should be viewed with a positive mindset.

Baba Shiv, professor of marketing, says that failure ”is not bad and can actually be exciting”.

He has identified two mindsets, both of which view failure differently. The first he says is fearful of making mistakes and is the mindset which best describes most organisations, executives and employees today.Such a perspective he says leads to a risk-averse approach which does not help a company’s innovation.

However the second mindset, one that characterises many entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley for example, is the fear of “losing out on opportunities”.

Prof Shiv says that companies need to change the employee mindset, either by brainstorming and from that rapidly developing a concrete model so that individuals can see the idea become real, or by “instilling a sense of desperation”, such as cutting resources, so that employees are forced to devise new ways of doing things.

“Failure is not bad. The sooner companies realise this, the sooner they will be on the road to breakthrough thinking,” says Prof Shiv


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