Net misuse costs businesses $178B annually

Employees are using the Web more and more for personal reasons and that is setting U.S. companies back US$178 billion annually, a cost of $5,000 per employee, said a study released Tuesday by Websense, Inc.

The San Diego-based Internet management company reported that 50 percent of the surveyed workers admitted to using the Internet for personal purposes at work. Therefore, about 34 million of the 68 million total U.S. employees who use the Internet at work are surfing the Web recreationally on company time, making Internet usage one of the biggest threats to employee productivity.

Surveyed IT managers on average estimated that each employee is using the Internet for personal use for 5.9 hours a week, the survey said. After multiplying these numbers by the average American hourly salary, Websense came up with the figure of $178 billion.

The increased incidence of “cyberslacking” results in part from the growing percentage of American employees who use the Web for work reasons, as well as the fact that Web use has become a bigger part of everyday life in general, the survey said. In fact, Websense concluded that the overall percentage of employees who use the Internet as part of their jobs rose from 86 percent to 94 percent in the last year.

Among workers who reported using the Web for personal reasons the most popular activities were reading the news, checking personal e-mail, online banking, travel and shopping.

“It isn’t that employees are doing something bad, per se,” said Websense spokesperson Jen Cutler. “There is a lot of really engaging content out there. … [The amount of Web use] really depends on what kind of corporate culture a company has.”

An earlier study performed by America Online Inc. and stated that 44.7 percent of the 10,000-plus workers surveyed cited Web surfing as their number one distraction at work.

Vendors such as Internet Security Systems Inc., Secure Computing Corp., and Websense offer products that help companies monitor employee Internet usage and thus regulate their productivity.

Yet, though personal Web use is pervasive and costly, some companies choose not to monitor their workers because they don’t want them to feel as if they are constantly being watched.

The Websense study was performed in conjunction with Harris Interactive Inc.

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