Bogus Research: Social Networking Doesn’t Improve Productivity; Breaks Do

A widely reported piece of research from Australian researcher Dr. David Coker suggests people who check social media websites periodically are more productive than those who don’t.

Really? What’s next, the salubrious effects of online porn?

“People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration,” Coker said. “Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enable the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days’ work, and as a result, increased productivity.”

What’s Really Being Measured?
There are two likely effects being measured.

  • The well-established benefit of taking breaks. There’s no reason to conclude that social media interaction is more beneficial than taking a walk, juggling or chatting in the break room.
  • Differences between employees who choose to take breaks with computers and those who don’t. The research studied what workers elected to do.  Workers who go online on their break may simply be more industrious, or have interests that align with their work. Without random assignment, Dr. Coker is as likely measuring differences between groups as any difference caused by what they do.

The research also makes no comparison between social media and non-social media, such as watching a video, or reading a news website.

So, ok, it is good to take breaks, and probably also to allow staff to use computers for some recreation during breaks. But the research doesn’t offer evidence that any benefit is caused by social media use.  It’s just a hook that gives the news story and the research a false, buzz-worthy coating.

1 Response to "Bogus Research: Social Networking Doesn’t Improve Productivity; Breaks Do"

  • Brett King

    December 14, 2009


    I agree with you partially here. I think the banning of social networking from a company’s web access is a false economy. I believe that every employee in a service culture is responsible for use of the best available medium for promoting its brand and servicing its customers. To limit the use of Social networking tools in this day and age, would IMHO, make client facing staff and brand champions less productive than they should be in the web 2.0 paradigm.


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