Given the prevalence of online work breaks, the University of Cincinnati study examined this phenomenon in depth, utilising extensive one-on-one interviews about online breaks with 33 professionals from a variety of industries and occupations.
Researcher Sung Doo Kim, a doctoral candidate in the Carl H Lindner College of Business said workers engage in online work breaks when they report a high need for recovery (feeling frazzled from an intense work period, recovering from a reported significant loss of physical or emotional energy).
Triggers also included breaking monotony or boredom, checking on demands at home and other personal demands, or emotional work-related events that triggered anger or frustration.
Workers whose jobs required extensive computer time or sitting at a desk for prolonged periods were less likely to find online breaks rejuvenating, versus jobs that required a good deal of physical activity or a lot of face-to-face interaction, prompting employees to decompress with some "alone time" online.
Organisational polices also affected the tendency to take online breaks, as some of the employees reported that their workplace had strict policies on the personal use of workplace computers.
Kim added that older workers who had spent years in the workplace previous to the birth of the Internet frowned on online breaks, stating that they were being "paid to work." So, personal values also played a factor in taking online breaks.
The reported online activities were categorised into two types: pleasure-seeking and non-work-related duties and responsibilities.
Researchers outlined three consequences of online work breaks: momentary recovery, learning and satisfaction. First, the workers took online breaks as a quick chance to unwind.
"Employees reported benefits on going online to balance their work and personal responsibilities, such as checking on their children," said Kim.
"After reassuring themselves about their children, they were better able to focus on their work," said Kim.
Kim adds that people going online for industry news or research felt that they were benefiting themselves in their careers.
He said that employees who took online breaks also reported greater levels of satisfaction at work, perhaps because of the freedom to be able to occasionally check in on their personal life.