Science Says Taking Social Media Breaks At Work Actually Isn't That Bad & Here's Why

by Julia Guerra

What are you doing right this second? Or, rather, what should you be doing? Trust me, friend, I'm not trying to guilt you into getting back to work. I know myself, and as a creative, it’s easy to mentally fizzle and check out at various points of the day, especially during work, when cranking out content requires a ton of brain power. So, sure, once in a while, I’ll take a few minutes to scroll through Instagram or Twitter to decompress and get those juices flowing again, and while you might feel weird about using social media at work, new research says logging onto Facebook or skimming Reddit in between assignments doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a slacker.

Granted, half the time I write about taking social media breaks, it’s usually in the context of either telling you to log out of your apps more often, or recommending you shut your phone off entirely for a few hours to unplug and unwind. I'm kind of a kill-joy that way, huh? But even though I still think reserving a few hours of your day to go completely off the grid can be necessary for your mental health, I also understand that, sometimes, there are moments in life when you need to step back from the responsibilities of adulting, and tap into the virtual reality existing in your back-pocket. It just so happens that these special circumstances often present themselves in the workplace. C'est la vie, right?

A new study suggests surfing the web at work doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lazy or lack motivation; it could just mean the work isn't there, and you're simply bored.

Have you ever heard the term “cyberloafing”? It’s one of those things you probably didn’t know existed, but you inherently know what it is, and you're probably even guilty of doing it yourself from time to time. According to Techopedia, cyberloafing is when you mooch off your company’s internet access to log on to your personal accounts. Basically, it refers to all those times you were supposed to be answering emails, but opted to watch cat videos on YouTube instead. Up until now, cyberloafing was mostly considered to be a bad thing and, to an extent, a poor reflection of your work ethic. Thanks to a team of researchers from the University of Haifa in Israel and the University of South Florida, though, browsing the web while you're on the clock might have nothing at all to do with your work ethic or productivity.

To determine whether or not mindless scrolling through social media when you have a free moment at the office (or, you know, when you make a free moment) is actually a faux-pas on your part or just a blatant response to boredom, ScienceAlert reports the team of analysts in the study issued a survey to over 400 full-time employees working in a public university in the U.S. The results showed that the less work these employees were given, the more likely they were to browse their social feeds to pass the time.

Personally, I can't spend a ton of time on social media during work hours, sheerly due to the fact that I'm usually very busy during a typical work day. But, even if my workload is particularly light, I try not to lose myself in a "liking" spree on Instagram, or in pinning recipes on Pinterest, when I know I should be doing some research or writing for an article. Depending on your work environment, though, I guess if there legitimately isn't any work being assigned, how else are you supposed to entertain yourself?

Checking social media at work might not be a negative reflection on you, but it could be a sign that something's lacking in your job.

According to study author Shani Pindek of the University of Haifa, it's kind of up in the air whether or not employers and employees view cyberloafing as a bad thing. She told PsyPost,

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

Pindek raises an interesting point, but what if you're not overdoing it at all, and the real problem is with your job, and not a lack of self-control or fixation on social media? Of course, I can definitely see how getting sucked into a political debate on Facebook or watching a livestream on your favorite influencer's Instagram story could make someone lose focus and affect their productivity, but shouldn't you also be considering why you're turning to social media in the first place?

Sure, everyone goes through times when waking up early and heading to work is the last thing they want to do with their day, but there's a difference between a case of the Mondays on a Thursday, and actually feeling a consistent, lingering disconnect from your job. If you're feeling as though you're no longer passionate about the position you're in, or you're noticing you're breezing through work without the slightest challenge, career coach Jasmine Briggs, of Creatively Inspired Coaching, says it might be time to look for employment elsewhere. She told Forbes,

One huge warning sign that your current job is not the right fit for you is boredom. When I have work to do but still feel bored, then I know that it is time for a change.

This isn't to say that every time you go to check your phone at work, it's a red flag that you need to update your resume and send some applications out. Not every day at your job is going to be interesting, or particularly challenging, and not every glance at Instagram requires you to re-evaluate your entire career. But, if you are spending a significant amount of time on your social feeds when there is work to be done, it might be worth some extra thought.