Three-minute explainer on… cyberslacking

Employees using the internet for their own personal uses at work can represent a risk for businesses ⁠– but sometimes a break is necessary 

Three-minute explainer

Increasingly, people live their lives online. The internet is an important tool when it comes to conducting research, shopping, managing finances, consuming entertainment and more.

The internet also plays a vital role in many people’s jobs. In 2024, in the UK at least, it is rare that someone could go about their day at work without spending at least some of it online. 

But when employees are online, how can employers ensure that they remain focused? What lines should be drawn between a reasonable, understandable break and wasting company time and resources?

What is cyberslacking?

Cyberslacking is when an employee is using their employer’s internet connection or their workplace electronic devices for something other than work. This could include browsing the news, accessing social media, watching videos, playing games, or even simply completing personal errands during office hours.

It is broadly seen as a state of distraction and, often, a threat to productivity, but it can have much more serious consequences. Employees who use company property to browse sites or download files that have not been approved can run the risk of leaving an organisation’s IT infrastructure vulnerable to cyber attacks. 

Should you be worried about cyberslacking and what can you do to avoid it?

Some degree of cyberslacking feels unavoidable. Over the course of a whole day, particularly during lunchtime, it seems reasonable that workers would want some respite. 

Employers should be mindful that employees’ personal lives do matter. Responding to messages regarding healthcare appointments or the delivery of a food shop, for example, should be hardly viewed as a dereliction of duty. Indeed, when it comes to productivity and performance, there is an argument to be made that workers who feel trusted and able to take short breaks will be happier and therefore more productive in the long run. 

Stomping out cyberslacking altogether (through employee surveillance, for example, or by banning all uses of the internet that are not work-related) is as draconian as it would be impracticable. There is, however, much to be said for introducing a code of conduct. Some personal use of the internet is fine and to be expected, but there need to be limits on exactly what sort of websites are allowed to be accessed and what can or can’t be downloaded. Some video content, for instance, is inappropriate for the workplace, while it also feels fair that employers would block gambling websites, games, or anything which requires people to input personal data. 

Ultimately, if cyberslacking is viewed as the digital equivalent of a tea break, then employers should apply a similar approach to supervising it.