A reader sent in an email asking if blocking twitter access at work really increases employee productivity.
I'm not aware of any studies that test this specific hypothesis. However, this recent FT article suggests, citing this study, that forbidding employees from surfing the internet could be counter-productive.
Participants in this experiment who had been asked to resist temptation made more mistakes on future tasks compared with those who indulged. This seems to fall in-line with the theory of ego depletion — resistance is hard and a tired brain has fewer resources available in subsequent periods to exert self-control or make decisions.
Bureaucratic organizations think that blocking the internet means employees will focus more time on work activity. Therefore, with workers focusing more on activity, they will get more out of those workers. Intuitively I find this line of reasoning flawed.
There is no magic fariy that makes employees turn the time they were going to check email into productive time. Rather, they'll just find some other diversion because most people with internet at their desks need diversions. They're not assembling chocolates into a box — they are doing something that requires thought. And thinking is actually hard work.
When you treat people like children they behave accordingly. If employees need to ask for permission before checking email or updating Facebook you have a trust problem. This leads to a culture of people who mentally check out.
Failing to trust your employees is expensive too as it requires bureaucracy. Once an organization starts down a bureaucratic path, momentum takes over and people start taking comfort in following process and procedure. The biggest cost is cultural.
I know one particularly interesting bureaucracy that actually reminds employees to wear boots in the winter — what are the odds they have a great culture of trust?