The irresistible call of the surf

`Cyber skiving' - where employees browse the Internet for personal use - is costing companies dear, writes Helen Jones
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The Independent Online
There was a point when wasting time at work meant chatting with colleagues about nothing in particular, circuitous trips to the coffee machine, a cigarette break on the fire escape, telephone calls to family and friends and, at a push, a quick go at a computer game.

But traditional time-wasting activities have given way to what some companies regard as a much more insidious and altogether more expensive practice - cyber skiving.

According to a survey carried out by the market researchers Banner & Co for the computer manufacturer AST, companies are more worried about the effects of time-wasting on the Internet than they are about crime on the Internet. Of those questioned, 73 per cent fear that employees will waste time browsing on the Internet and 57 per cent believe employees will shop online during working hours.

AST's general manager for the UK and Ireland, Graham Hopper, says: "The Internet is still very much in its infancy as far as corporate use is concerned and it is therefore something of an unknown entity. Companies can see the benefits and are exploiting these, but, at the same time, they cannot easily control the time employees spend surfing and they find it difficult to correlate the time on the Internet with the achievement of business objectives."

Another report, commissioned by JSB Computer Systems, indicates that in a company of 50 employees each earning pounds 15,000 and wasting one hour a day each, cyber skiving could cost the company pounds 94,000 a year.

Steve Purdham of JSB says: "It's definitely a problem, and many companies don't realise just how big a problem it is, and that it is going to get bigger. When employees with access to the Internet were interviewed, 100 per cent admitted that they browse the Internet for personal use."

And it is certainly easy to lose time surfing in cyberspace. Mick O'Brien, a freelance journalist, is a self-confessed Internet addict. "I usually spend about an hour a day on it. I usually start looking at something that is related to my work and then off at a tangent and end up looking at something bizarre. I do waste a lot of time and money on the Internet but as freelancer it is my money and not anyone else's"