Wasting Work Time on the Web

While many employees are toiling away at their careers, others are doing some personal Web surfing. A survey conducted by Websense International Ltd. and Personnel Today magazine among 544 human resources (HR) managers and officers from some of Britain’s largest corporations found that almost three-quarters (72 percent) of U.K. firms have had issues with Internet misuse.

Online pornography was associated with 69 percent of all dismissals, and accounts for 51 percent of workplace complaints. Forty percent of HR departments have received complaints from co-workers who are unhappy with their colleagues wasting time on: personal email (accounting for 26 percent of the complaints); chat rooms (23 percent); Web-based games (17 percent); sports (11 percent); music downloads (11 percent); racism/hate sites (9 percent); online shopping or auctions (8 percent); gambling (8 percent); share trading (3 percent); and news (2 percent).

According to the survey, HR managers get involved with an average of one complaint per month, and more than half (56 percent) address the problem with a private conversation. Verbal warnings are issued by 29 percent and 23 percent resort to dismissing the employee.

HR professionals realize that Internet access in the workplace can be quite tempting and they indicated that 20 minutes a day for personal Web surfing is a fair and acceptable amount of time. However, they noted that 30 minutes per day was probably more realistic. More than half (57 percent) of HR personnel acknowledge that the biggest offenders are those that have their own offices.

Websense estimates that Internet misuse is costing U.K. businesses approximately £9.6 billion annually, with 44 percent of Internet-enabled employees spending an average of 3 hours per week surfing personal sites at work.

“Nine billion pounds is actually a conservative number when you factor bandwidth loss, storage costs and HR costs associated with free and open Internet use in the workplace,” said Douglas Wride, CFO of Websense Inc.

Loss of productivity issues aside, there are legal risks that employers face over Internet misuse. Experts suggest that companies institute strict policies on acceptable Internet usage in the workplace and some companies cracked down by installing monitoring systems that help guarantee adherence.

Contrary to the Websense findings, Nielsen//NetRatings reported in May 2002 that U.K. workers are actually looking for information, not entertainment. The top five domains to gain in audience reach from at-work surfing for April 2002 were: microsoft.com, bbc.co.uk, msn.co.uk, yahoo.co.uk, and demon.co.uk.

“Working surfers need software patches and upgrades,” commented Internet analyst Tom Ewing, “But they also use the Internet to catch up on news and look things up. Of course it’s impossible to say how much of this information-seeking is related to their jobs, but these figures send a signal that irresponsible Internet use may not be as big a problem as some bosses think.”

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