In Summary

Workers who are bored, prone to procrastination or have low emotional intelligence are more likely to engage in personal activities in the work place, a Swinburne study has found.

Engaging in non-work activities at work – like surfing the Internet or checking Facebook – is known as non-work presenteeism.

The practice is estimated to cost organisations and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars annually - more than absenteeism, when employees don’t turn up for work.

The Swinburne study, led by Professor Con Stough, Professor of Psychology, suggests employers could increase productivity if they invest in training staff in emotional intelligence – the ability to monitor their own and others’ feelings and emotions and to manage their emotions at times of stress.

It was the first published research of its kind in Australia. Similar studies have focused either on sick days or people not working at work due to sickness or mental health issues.

The study looked at the types of personal activities people engaged in at work and investigated if this was linked to emotional intelligence, job stress, boredom, and procrastination.

A sample of 184 full-time employees in several industries and organisations completed an anonymous online survey.

The five top non-work related activities were: engaging in non-work related discussions with colleagues; going to the pantry for drinks or snacks; organising non-work related activities; surfing the Internet and Facebook; and reading newspapers.

Results demonstrated a significant relationship between this behaviour and emotional intelligence (EI).

Participants who were less able to understand, express and manage emotions were more likely to engage in non-work activities, leading Professor Stough and his team to hypothesise that these activities might be a coping mechanism.

“More EI competent employees may be more likely to use more adaptive coping mechanisms when faced with problems or stressful situations in the workplace, rather than surfing the net or spending a lot of time on Facebook, which could constitute a form of mental distraction or poorer form of coping with work issues,’’ he said.

While results obtained from the study are preliminary, it suggests an emotionally intelligent workforce might be more productive.

“Employees high in EI may cope better with stress, boredom and procrastination, which could lead to higher productivity, reduced turnovers, and non-work related presenteeism,” Professor Stough said.

“Findings could assist HR departments on ways to increase staff productivity, and to be aware of factors that could potentially contribute to non-work related presenteeism which is literally costing countries like Australia hundreds of millions of dollars annually in lost productivity.”

Research is currently underway to examine the relationship between non-work productivity, achievement and productivity.

Organisations interested in participating in this type of research should contact Professor Stough.