Web surfing at work is on the upswing

Canadian employers are paying employees to shop online, bank online and send personal e-mails during work hours, according to a recent report.

The latest quarterly Canadian Inter@ctive Reid Report, released last month by Ipsos-Reid Corp., found that the average Canadian adult worker spends four and a half hours a week surfing the Internet for personal reasons – more than double the number of hours that same employee spent on the Internet in 2000.

Chris Ferneyhough, vice-president of technical research with Ipsos-Reid in Toronto, said the increase in personal Internet use at work is a logical progression.

“A few years ago, there was a stigma associated with using the Internet at work. Employees weren’t sure of company rules and procedures and they were concerned [what would happen] if they got caught using the Internet at work,” Ferneyhough said.

“As people got more comfortable and they realized they weren’t going to get fired if they spent 15 minutes checking their stocks online, for example, then the increase is logical.”

The study found that 38 per cent of Canadian adults have Internet access at work, up from 34 per cent in 2000. Among those with Internet access, 88 per cent admit to using the Internet at work for personal reasons – up 10 per cent from 2000.

Ferneyhough said the number of hours surfers spend online at work has nearly doubled since 2000; however, just because people are spending four and a half hours each week using the Internet for personal reasons (1.6 billion hours a year collectively) doesn’t necessarily mean those employees are not productive.

“I don’t know that you can necessarily say that because someone is spending some time on the Internet that it means they are less productive…maybe that’s time in the past that they spent at the water cooler,” he said. “Whatever loss of productivity there is for people who are using the Internet for personal purposes is probably being gained by people who are using it for practical reasons as well.”

In other words, the increased use of the Internet can also benefit employers, in a type of give-and-take relationship. Employers recognize that employees are going to spend some time conducting personal business online, but at the same time those same employees also have quicker access to work-related documents.

“The Internet is not just all about people slacking off from work, it’s also a very productive tool as well,” Ferneyhough said. “In general as a medium, people are becoming more savvy with it,” he explained, adding that many people spend time conducting work-related research or sending business e-mails.

Although employees are spending a lot of time using the Internet for personal reasons, the study found that based on a 40-hour workweek, employees use 27 per cent of the typical week conducting business online.

E-mailing is the most prominent use of the Internet, with 88 per cent of respondents reporting using the Internet to send work-related e-mails during the day. Close behind, nearly three-quarters of respondents say they conduct industry-related research online and just under half research the competition.

Ferneyhough said most employers are reasonable and recognize that an employee can’t spend every second of the day working, “I mean, they need a break here and there.”

This is where company policies on Internet usage come into place.

More than half of Canadians with access at work (57 per cent) told Ipsos-Reid that their company has a policy regarding personal Internet use – up from 33 per cent in 2000. Sixty-seven per cent of employees said their employers are within their rights to monitor Internet usage.

In the next few years, Ferneyhough said that most employers will have a policy in place to regulate Internet usage.

Companies without policies in place tend to rely on employee common sense where Internet time is concerned, but Ferneyhough said he was surprised at how many offices have taken control of the situation with policies.

Ipsos-Reid did not specifically ask if personal Internet use spiked during lunch-hours or coffee breaks. Ferneyhough said he has heard from online retailers that they are busiest during lunch hours, so it’s logical to assume that many people spend their lunchtime on the Internet, which isn’t considered company time.

The report can be found at www.ipsos-reid.com/pdf/media/mr030415-1tb.pdf.

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