Surfing the web, interacting via social media and chatting by the water cooler can help you become a better employee.

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Certain workplace “distractions” — such as social media and text messaging — can cost companies of more than 1,000 employees up to $10 million per year, according to one recent study.

Yet by not allowing employees the freedom to think outside the box, organizations may hinder the creative atmosphere and lose even more dollars. After all, products like Gmail and AdSense were formed via Google’s 20 percent “Innovation Time Off” policy, where employees are allowed to work on projects outside their job description for a fifth of the workday (or work week or work month).

The word “break” has negative connotations, assuming that taking one will break your concentration or productivity. But employees need to feel comfortable and empowered to reenergize their mind or explore the boundaries of their job description, which — while maybe against work policy — can be an agent for enhancing effectiveness and breeding new ideas.

Now, this isn’t an excuse to stalk your ex-boyfriend on Twitter all day. Still, your boss may want to reconsider his or her attitude and policy toward these three simple, but all-too-often discouraged, activities:

Perform a social media or web blitz

Checking social networking sites can help you find vital information, relieve stress and build collaboration with other industry professions, one study reports. The key is not abusing these privileges and instead Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms to connect with the right individuals and organizations.

Do you use Twitter lists? Create one for organizations and experts in your field and limit your workday tweet activity to checking that particular group. There are hundreds of LinkedIn groups in each field, where you can read about what your audience wants and needs or learn from other professionals.

You can also “like” similar organizations on Facebook and learn how they utilize the site in their PR strategy. If it appears to be working for them, employ it at your own organization — and if it’s not your job, suggest it to the correct department.

If you’re a fan of browsing the web for new ideas or inspiration, then you’re also in luck. One study showed general web surfing can aid productivity as well – not to mention, you never know what interesting content you might literally stumble upon.

Embrace watercooler chat

Socializing helps us forge connections, which are no doubt an important part of life. After all, you will be happier at work if you make at least one friend.

But maybe you ought to spend even more time by the watercooler or coffee pot?

One study showed that those who engaged in idle chatter at work have the highest productivity. The study’s author, Alex Pentland, Ph.D., explains, “What you’re learning implicitly and tacitly from chatting is how to manage your life in job situations. Part of that is about actual job issues, but a lot of it is about your attitude toward the job and your attitude toward other people.”

Pentland adds that some of these face-to-face interactions will form connections across the organization. We’re more likely to talk with who we click with, not just those in our own departments. Maybe you’ll learn something new about the company and its projects — and perhaps you’ll even see a new way to collaborate with that group?

Eat out and don’t feel guilty

Almost everyone gets a lunch break. But how many people actually get up and eat away from their desk, setting pressing work aside?

Nearly half of U.S. workers say they now take shorter or fewer lunch breaks during the day. The excuses vary, from “I have too much work” to “No one else does,” to feeling discouraged or wanting to leave early.

Yet taking a lunch break can actually improve your productivity and reenergize you for the remainder of the day. Trying to work through an eight-hour, or longer, day without food or physical exercise can lead to burnout, fatigue and a lack of enthusiasm.

The Energy Project;s “Take Back Your Lunch” campaign has more tips and articles about why it’s important to step away for a while.

And Brazen Life’s Kelly Gurnett has plenty of suggestions for what to do if you brought your lunch, but desire a break anyway.

If you work in an environment where skipping lunch is typical, then why not ask a mid-level colleague to join you? It could help make stepping out less intimidating and socially accepted.

Despite popular belief, each of these activities may be an aid, not barrier, to your success at work. Just remember, everything in moderation.

Alyssa Martino is a writer and editor just outside the Nation’s Capitol. She loves digging for stories that connect people, place and possibility. Click your way over to her website to learn more.


  1. iBash

    It’s starts with allowing employees to use Facebook and Twitter, and usually ends with them playing poker and watching porn.
    Which can result in serious damage to their workstation (viruses) and local network.
    So, I keep my employees within the ‘box’ …

    • Anonymous

      Hey iBash – I agree it’s a fine line (and maybe a slippery slope?) with these items. But if used correctly I think they really can help productivity, not hurt it.

      • iBash

        I didnt say you should treat your employees like slaves. But there should be clear ‘limits’ for what’s acceptable and what’s not.

    • Rocco Capra

      From my experience… when you treat your employees like children, they will eventually behave like children.

      Don’t trust them. Treat them like they are prone to dis-behave, or screw off. Constantly watch over their shoulders. – And you will end up with non-creative, unproductive drones.

      If you have employees who do play poker and look at porn, you need different employees. There are plenty out there who are creative, productive, and would love a job to prove it.

      If you never heard of it, look into ROWE ( You may be surprised how people respond when you treat them like responsible, creative, productive adults.

      • Anonymous

        Love this comment, Rocco, and totally agree. A good employe will thrive with these freedoms, not abuse them… checking out ROWE now.

      • iBash

        You cant run a business like a hippie. Sure it sound cool to allow employees freedom which will allow the to be more creative.
        But the real question is will they fall to their human nature and take advantage of those liberties? The answer is yes. All you do is sugar coat the truth.

        • Rocco Capra

          Either you need a different job, or different employees. And I sure hope your employees don’t read your posts here…I pity them.

    • Guest

      I have to say that’s quite the stretch. What quality of people are you hiring?

    • Paesano2000

      “It starts with coffee, and usually ends up with heroin.”


    • Anonymous

      Your employees are probably doing worse things to get even, then. You probably will get a virus from one of them as a deliberate act.

  2. Anonymous

    Great advice on turning these “taboo” work activities into opportunities to position yourself to meet new people, network, and create visibility for yourself! And I love that companies like Google and Meetup (in NYC) are fostering innovation and creativity by encouraging their employees to work on projects outside of their job descriptions. My fiance works for Meetup, and every Friday or so they demo their personal projects for the team, and it’s totally a morale and a creativity booster.

  3. Amy Chin

    I love articles like this to remind managers that we’re all human and need breaks during the work day.

    In college, I worked at a start-up for over 2 years. From day 1, I did everything from marketing to customer service to sales to project management. In the beginning, it was just my boss and I running the show until we were able to expand our staff to a sales rep, interns, and assistants. Then one day, my boss sat me down for a “serious talk.” It turned out she had looked at the internet browser history and saw that I took a break one day to check my school email and to book a flight for spring break. I didn’t know it was against company policy to surf the internet at work, or otherwise I definitely would not have done it. In addition, I was completely humiliated and felt unappreciated after all the work I had done for her and the company. I handed in my resignation the next day. My boss argued that I would have gotten fired for “taking advantage of the company” if I was working anywhere else. I’ve had six internships/jobs since then and there were no restrictions on internet use at any of them (with the obvious rules on porn, illegal downloads, etc.). I’m allowed (and encouraged) to manage my own time and make sure all my work gets done. Now that I’m in a supervisory role, I follow that same sentiment when it comes to my team members.

    • Anonymous

      Amy, that is an unfortunate story. I’m sorry to hear of your experience but happy it has influenced your own management style in a more positive direction!

  4. Jodine Ibeme

    I wanted to participate in FB, and lunch break chats. I felt it was way to gossipy and personal. I felt it could backfire on me. Being friendly didn’t help anyway, nothing helped me from getting terminated from this job. I just wasn’t welcomed.

  5. Stewart

    You know, I think we baby employees way too much. They are being paid to work, right?

    • Imaginativeone

      Sure, but not using the WEB?? What kind of sense does THAT make?

  6. Anonymous

    This is so key, especially for knowledge workers! Your brain needs time to chew on and digest big problems. I often find that when I’m stuck on a particular issue, stepping away from it for a few minutes allows me to find the solution.

  7. origami cranes

    This blog is nice and amazing. I love your post! It’s also nice to see someone who does a lot of research and has a great knack for ting, which is pretty rare from bloggers these days.
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  8. Rik

    The company I work for has started to open up and allow colleagues greater freedom, actually using some of the ideas posted above, following a poor score from a recent colleague survey. Initial feedback on these initiatives is positive and colleagues are starting to enjoy their work day so much more (myself included) which only benefits productivity….

    • Anonymous

      That’s so cool to hear, Rik! I think allowing greater freedom is a great way to build employee loyalty.

      • Rik

        Me too. It’s just a shame it took embarrassing results from a colleague opinion survey for my employer to realise 😀

  9. Dimitrihouse

    I’m not sure flirting with strangers on Facebook can really be compared to Google’s famous “Innovation Time Off” policy.

    • Anonymous

      Oh. I wasn’t comparing them. I was saying Google’s policy allows for freedom that can lead to great, innovative ideas — but ONLY if used wisely. Aka NOT to flirt on Facebook 😉

  10. Alarm Company

    Being a boss somewhat I agree to this. 🙂

  11. Stasbbs

    I love articles

  12. Steff@get-my-ex-boyfriend-back

    Hi Alyssa,

    some industries are “colder” than the rest, and you’re supposed to be busy like everyone else even when you aren’t. My friend who is in advertising have to resort to networking over ciggy break rather than taking some quiet downtime to recharge. She doesn’t even like cigarettes.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Steff, I think that’s a good point! Some industries ARE colder/more… stuffy? Is that a good word? Though, gosh, taking up smoking just to network….

  13. Jeff Thomas

    Haha these Taboo activities most definitely sound like normal human activities which are a necessity for normal social interaction of the human race.

  14. Lisadeo

    Not all business can afford the cell phone luxury in the workplace, would you want someone making your food texting or checking the inbox in between doing it. How about when your sitting on that drive thru and its taking 5 or 6 minutes to get to the window because someone is playing with there phone instead of taking your order. It is an unneeded distraction and also an every day challenge for restaurant managers.

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