Houser Co-Authored Working Paper Among HBS Top Downloaded for 2011

News | February 17, 2012

Temptation at Work, co-authored by Daniel Houser with Alessandro Bucciol and Marco Piovesan, was one of the top ten most downloaded working papers from Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge series.

The paper looked at the relationship between worker productivity and Web-based distraction at work. The authors found that workers actually performed worse at tasks if they were prohibited from watching a funny video on the internet. See below for an executive summary and visit the HBS Working Knowledge for a copy of the paper and more information.

Executive Summary:

Among the many distractions that keep office employees from their work, surfing the web is arguably the most irresistible time-waster of all. In order to deal with that problem, many companies either prohibit Internet use during working hours, or closely monitor employees’ web activity. This means workers must wait until they get home to get their daily YouTube fix. But does forbidding this distraction actually increase productivity? In this paper, researchers find that the answer is no—and that delaying gratification actually has a negative impact on employee performance. Research was conducted by Alessandro Bucciol of the University of Verona and the University of Amsterdam, Daniel Houser of George Mason University, and Marco Piovesan, a research fellow at Harvard Business School.

Key concepts include:

  • Experimental research finds that subjects who were told to resist the temptation of watching a funny video made significantly more mistakes on a subsequent task than subjects who were allowed to watch the video right away.
  • The findings suggest that employers should not tell employees not to surf the web in situations where the web is technically available to them. Rather, these companies should either remove web access entirely or, when this is not practical, allow a certain amount of time for personal Internet activity.
  • Employers might also consider allowing regular Internet breaks, in the same way that they offer coffee and cigarette breaks.

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