Surf's Up: Reducing Internet Abuse Without Demotivating Employees

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Each year, organizations sustain a multi-billion-dollar productivity loss because of internet abuse: the use of workplace internet for non-work purposes. Accordingly, they have implemented various forms of top-down monitoring, in which an authority controls employees’ online behavior. The efficacy of this “vertical” control system, however, is less clear than its unintended consequence: demotivated employees. Drawing from research on self-determination and control systems, the current research examined whether two “horizontal” control systems—peer monitoring and peer communication—would mitigate internet abuse with fewer motivational consequences. Using a new virtual environment and a survey, three studies compared the systems’ objective and subjective effects, documenting an underlying psychological mechanism: autonomy. Consistent with predictions, the results suggested that both horizontal systems can reduce abuse as readily as the vertical system, but they exact fewer motivational costs by supporting autonomy. Beyond their practical import, these findings help to integrate theories of motivation and control.


This article was originally published in Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedingsin 2014. The link above is to the authoritative publisher’s version, as noted by the Economic Science Institute, and may reside behind a paywall.

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