Will Weak Economy Boost On-the-Job Web Surfing?

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Nearly a quarter of U.S. workers spend three to five hours a week surfing the Internet while on the job, according to survey of 200 U.S. office workers released this week.

The survey, conducted by MarketTools, Inc.'s Zoomerang unit for St. Bernard Software Inc., a San Diego-based maker of Internet security appliances and Web filtering tools, also found that 61% of workers spend up to two hours a week surfing the Internet for non-work-related information.

And, at least according to one analyst, the amount of time that workers spend idly surfing the Web will probably increase as the economy worsens .

"I do think that surfing is definitely up and will continue to go up," said Dan Olds, principal analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group. "It comes in three varieties. The first is people who are looking for news on the economy, their companies, and their jobs . They're frantically watching everything in order to try to understand what might happen next. The second are the people who are looking for a place to land, so they're watching job sites , putting in resumes, etc. The third are the escapists. They just want to get away from the gloomy present and disconnect from the news, their work, and their fears for a while."

Olds also said he expects that the time workers surf will continue increase until the financial crisis and growing unemployment numbers start to turn around. The analyst also suggested that the number of corporate surfers is probably higher than found in the survey.

"The [survey results] are definitely low," he said. "I would say that the average individual worker in his own cube does on average of an hour a day of personal surfing - if not a lot more," he added. "But there's a benefit to employers that's often overlooked. Employees can do so much online that actually lets them get more work done. They can handle personal matters, like banking, from the office rather than sneak out during the business day."

According to the survey, 56% of workers spend their surfing time reading news and other articles, while 37% do online banking and 23% are online shopping.

Olds said he doesn't see that as a problem since most workers are evaluated by the amount of work they get done - not by the number of hours they spend doing it.

"If they're getting their job done, it's usually cool," he added. The problem comes when they're either slipping on the job or if they're doing something like surfing porn. As a manager, I never had a problem with people doing online Christmas shopping or stuff like that. I trusted them to get their stuff done and they trusted that I wasn't going to be a jerk and yell at them for surfing Amazon during business hours. Leave people alone. Why crank up the pressure on them. They need an outlet."

This story, "Will Weak Economy Boost On-the-Job Web Surfing?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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