Can you believe that using social networking sites at work can increase your workplace productivity? A new study just published by Australian scientists found that taking time to visit websites of personal interest, including news sites and YouTube, provided workers a mental break that ultimately increased their ability to concentrate and was correlated with a 9% increase in total productivity.

Reporters are shocked by the findings. We’re in shock that this is where the state of academic study is concerning social technology use vs. workplace filtering technology when it comes to productivity. A 9% increase in productivity? Try using these social technologies for on topic work and you’ll see productivity increases that make 9% look like nothing.

The study was performed by researchers at Australia’s University of Melbourne and coined the phrase “workplace Internet leisure browsing,” or WILB. The activity helps keep the mind fresh and helps put you in a better place when you come back to working on topic, the scientists said.

“People who do surf the Internet for fun at work – within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office – are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t,” said Dr Brent Coker, from the Melbourne Department of Management and Marketing. Got that? You can spend as much as 20% of your time at work dorking around on the internet and still end up 9% more productive than people who don’t! Print this article and put it in your wallet for the next time you get in trouble for browsing on the job, eh?

In fact, this isn’t an entirely worthless insight. We like to use StumbleUpon every once in a while just to run some cool water through the pathways of the brain associated with imagination.

Really, though, reading news feeds at work and using social networking sites (especially Twitter) can lead to so many multiples in productivity that any surprise over this 9% finding is hard to wrap our heads around.

On-demand access to geographically dispersed, topic-specific knowledge and feedback through both synchronous and asynchronous communication over multiple technology platforms is what social media use at work can be and that is a game changer. Could someone please study that?

What this study says to us is that the social web is so incredibly powerful that even people who don’t know how to use it find themselves made 9% more productive because of it – on accident. Studying that seems like missing the point, though it is interesting.

Photo: Shock-ed by Flickr user CarbonNYC.