Almost 40 per cent of workers in the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States spend an hour or more every day e-mailing their friends and relatives or swapping jokes and other trivial things via the company e-mail system during working hours, according to a survey by a security software firm.
The rest spend around half an hour each day. And more than three quarters of people believe their boss would be "unconcerned" about this time-wasting. Only one in 10 workers claims never to use the company e-mail system for personal purposes.
E-Mail Use at Work
survey was conducted among 4,500 people in the three countries and shows that company productivity rates could be improved by about seven percent if employees redirected the time they currently spend using the company e-mail system for personal reasons to more productive, company-centered activities.
According to David Guyatt, CEO of Clearswift, the Redwood City, Calif.-based software company that conducted the survey, personal e-mail use adds up.
"In a typical 100-person company in each of the three countries, for example, the survey shows that almost 1,700 working days each year are lost because people are using corporate e-mail systems for non-company purposes," said Guyatt. "That's equivalent to about seven new full-time staff."
The survey highlights some interesting differences between different job titles and nationalities. While IT staff — at 29 minutes — spend on average five minutes less each day than non-IT staff on personal e-mail management, these figures cover up some striking national differences:
•American workers, whether working in IT or not, spend the longest on personal e-mail activity, with American non-IT staff spending on average 21 days a year on personal e-mailing, the worst of any country.
•IT staff in Germany spend the least personal time, at 12.5 days per year.
•In the United Kingdom, IT departments are the worst behaved, spending nearly 17 days every year chatting online with friends, whereas their non-technical colleagues spend 13 days per year.
•Nearly 30 per cent of German IT staff said they never used the company e-mail system for personal reasons. Almost 40 per cent of U.S. IT staff claimed to spend an hour or more.
•Nearly one in five of British non-technical employees claimed never to use company systems for private e-mail. Almost half of all American non-IT staff (48.16 percent) said they spent more than an hour on non-company e-mail activity.
•IT staff were the most convinced their bosses would be unconcerned about the extent of private e-mail use. In each of the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States, more than 83 percent of IT professionals claimed this to be the case.
"Using the corporate systems for personal e-mail use is just one of many e-mail abuses faced by the corporate sector," said Guyatt. "Added to other issues such as loss of confidential information, inappropriate e-mail use leads to personal harassment, compliance challenges, spam and viruses. Companies need to set the ground rules with employees on Web and e-mail usage through clear policies to ensure productivity does not suffer.
"Backing this policy up with a technology solution will help ensure it is enforced fairly … an organization can set unrestricted access times during agreed periods — such as lunch time or before and after work — so employees can use their Webmail accounts for personal e-mail, but outside of those times the company preserves work hours for business-related Internet activity by restricting access to specific sites," he said.
"Combined with a content filtering solution on the corporate e-mail servers which checks content, a Web solution such as this can help organizations 'close the loop' and strike a balance between catering to the needs of employees and improving productivity," said Guyatt.
More than 4,500 people from the United Kingdom, United States and Germany filled this online survey which was conducted by Clearswift in December 2004.