BUSINESSES are now waking up to the fact that at least a quarter of employees are mixing business with pleasure at work. In other words, an increasing number of employees are choosing to log on to their favourite web sites or tune in to their ipods while at their desks. No problem, you might say, as long as the work gets done, but researchers are now saying that tuning out of the office environment has created a new phenomenon dubbed ‘office isolationism.’

An interesting area of research for the ad gurus you might think, but the study into staff ‘down time’ has also proven that zoning out in office hours can affect concentration and productivity, and even drive a wedge between older and younger members of staff. So much so that more than 30 per cent of firms have now officially banned MP3 players in the office, and also put stringent checks on personal Internet usage by employees.

Some companies have also started blocking dating sites, gaming sites and instant messaging services, fearing that such activities are sapping office bandwidth and causing staff to be ‘isolated’ from the cut and thrust of the office.

The reasoning behind the move is that such activity leads to slacking and can even cut employees off from each other, resulting in the so-called office isolation theory.

But the survey also paradoxically found that people with web access at home and at work spend an average of 3.7 hours per week surfing sites for personal use at work, but that they spend more time, 5.9 hours per week, logging on from home so they can work.

This and other research suggests that companies should accept some personal use of the internet at work as not only inevitable, but as positive to the organisation. Totally segregating work from personal activities might result in a net decline in work performed, not to mention lower workplace morale…

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