Why Blocking Sites at Work is a Bad Idea

All work and no play make employees less productive. Companies blocking access to certain parts of the internet is emblematic of that counterproductive mentality – so focused on work, that it prevents employees from working.

TheBestVPN’s 2020 study found that while 64% of U.S. employers had a firewall blocking some sites, 40% of employees admitted to bypassing that firewall. When employees are spending company time getting around a firewall the company pays for, clearly, something is broken. 

Most companies (90%) block sites fearing a human-error cyber attack, according to Spiceworks’ 2018 study. But preventing loss of productivity still registers as a stated reason (45%) or implied one, listed as “preventing users from visiting inappropriate websites” (84%) the same study found.

Preventing a cyber-attack seems like a reasonable use of company funds, and a decent reason to block some sites. Except that companies aren’t actually blocking the biggest source of cyberattacks, and employees are getting around the firewall anyway.

TheBestVPN lists the most commonly blocked sites at workplaces as:

  1. Adult or mature (84.7%)
  2. Illegal content (77.9%)
  3. Gambling (71.2%)
  4. Dating (59.9%)
  5. Unsecured (50.8%)
  6. Social Media (50.4%)
  7. Gaming (50.1%)

Websites with the most name recognition that face blocks in workplaces, according to TheBestVPN’s study are:

  1. Netflix (48.3%)
  2. Facebook (47.8%)
  3. Hulu (41.9%)
  4. Twitter (40.2%)
  5. YouTube (32.1%)

Spiceworks’s study details which methods companies have faced cyberattacks from:

  1. Personal webmail services (15%)
  2. Social media channels (11%)
  3. Unethical/inappropriate sites (7%)
  4. Illegal sites/services (5%)

While over half of workplaces surveyed who had a firewall blocked social media, inappropriate and illegal sites, none of them listed personal webmail as a restricted digital destination. 

Scientific research increasingly shows that listening to music, and taking regular breaks improves productivity. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience published a peer-reviewed study in the U.S. Library of Medicine’s journal in 2014 that found listening to music improves processing speed, and benefits memory. 

In 2017, the Draugiem Group found that taking a 10-minute break every 45 minutes improved productivity by 30%. Blocking access to recreational sites that employees use on their break, is counterproductive, and doesn’t actually block the main source of cyberattacks. And is easy to work around anyway. 

Employees primarily use mobile data (89.7%) or VPN (14.2%) to evade the firewalls at work, according to TheBestVPN’s survey. The professional world is at a turning point, and while we don’t know exactly what the post-pandemic world will look like, some employees will return to the office for at least a portion of the week.

When we’re back in offices, employers have an opportunity to make workplaces a little more bearable for us all. One obvious way of doing that is allowing access to music streaming services, understanding the need for breaks, and encouraging an environment that benefits productivity. Whether or not employers are interested in their employees’ ability to work and stay sane is another story.

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