Looking at Cat Videos at Work May Not Be So Bad

By: Lauren Mineau

We’ve all had a slow afternoon at work and found ourselves scrolling through cat videos or the sale section of our favorite clothing store.

This behavior can be seen as a bad thing in some workplaces, but new research says maybe not.

The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, examined the behavior known as cyberloafing, or scrolling the internet for personal use during work hours.

The study observed 463 non-instructional university personnel with diverse responsibilities. Most employees noted that when they had a low workload, they felt mentally sluggish and that led to greater personal use of the internet at work.

An important distinction researchers noted is that cyberloafing is different than other counterproductive workplace behavior (CWB). CWB can harm an organization severely and can include things like bullying, absenteeism, theft, sabotage, and harassment, among other activities.

“Cyberloafing is a rather natural response to workplace boredom and it is different from other (more harmful) forms of counterproductive work behaviors,” researcher Shani Pindek told PsyPost. “Cyberloafing happens more when the workload is low and in many cases it may not be harmful to the work. Just make sure not to overdo it!”

Results supported the direct relationships between underload (slow workload) and boredom, and boredom and cyberloafing.

The indirect underload-boredom-cyberloafing relationship was significant. Underload was not correlated with CWB, and the boredom-cyberloafing relationship was significantly stronger than the boredom-CWB relationship. In essence, boredom tends to lead to mindless web surfing but not necessarily more diabolical behaviors.

The findings show that cyberloafing is more of a coping mechanism than a form of CWB. Mental breaks can be beneficial in between tasks, the research shows. The behavior does pose some negatives too, of course, like potential cybersecurity breaches and decreased productivity.

“In the future we plan to examine the link between what people do when they cyberloaf and what’s going on during the job in terms of stress. For example — if someone was nasty to me at work, would I try to make myself feel better by watching funny cat videos, but avoid going on news websites (assuming news would often invoke a negative mood)?” Pindek said.

So, it seems a mindless scroll of Pinterest or watching a couple of cute animal montages may not be as bad as some think.