Browsing websites costs billions in lost productivity

Browsing websites costs billions in lost productivity

I worry that some people believe this sort of rubbish. According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) the average UK worker spends ninety minutes a week misusing corporate internet connections.

The CBI said that workers are spending roughly an hour and a half out of their week visiting web sites that have no relation to their work whatsoever. Cumulatively, it said, this costs UK businesses some £10.6bn in lost productivity over the course of a year.

The CBI polled some 503 businesses, who it said employed nearly one million workers between them. Two thirds of those who took part admitted that they think that their staff use work time – ie, not lunch, or formal breaks, to look at non-work sites. It identified social networking, web-based email and shopping and holiday sites as the biggest draws. Overall, they estimate the annual cost, per employee to be the region of £1000. According to the report, this costs UK businesses £10.6 billion (yes billion) a year in lost productivity.

Firstly of all, do they really expect us to believe that if there was a complete embargo on ‘non work related websites’ that we’d be saving the economy getting on for £11 billion? This assumes that these employees wouldn’t be doing other ‘wasteful’ things with their time if they weren’t surfing the web – like reading a newspaper or doing su-doku, or otherwise expanding their knowledge.

Secondly, they seem to have concluded that any serendipitous use of the internet is wasted time. What about all that information that has been both consciously and sub-consciously absorbed during this browsing experience? I wonder if they’ve quantified the times when some apparently useless nugget of information has been stored in the sub-concious and then used at some later date to contribute to the well being of the person (e.g. some health information), or maybe even applied to the workplace in a way that has improved productivity?

I’m saddened that a respected industry body such as the CBI should publish such report like this that draws some very debatable conclusions on a potentially flawed hypothesis that serendipitous use of the web is bad for business. Maybe they’d have us bring the workhouse back?

I just hope that managers will not use this report as further ammunition to restrict workers from using the web for anything other than browsing their own company’s web site. Let’s not apply 19th century working practices to 21st century workers!

5 thoughts on “Browsing websites costs billions in lost productivity

  1. Spot on mate. We’re already suffering the effects of neo-Darwinism at the inter-corporate level. The last thing workers need is a return to Dicken-era intra-corporate regulations.

    It’s all rather dehumanising. Just remember: we’re always human persons as part of our basic nature (in philosophical terms, at the ontological level). So no matter what sort of artificial entities we create to help human thriving, if those things ultimately become harmful we must re-humanise them, or failing that, destroy or replace those faulty creations entirely.

  2. Thanka for highlighting this one Steve – it links nicely with a project I hope to be able to talk more about next month.

    To be fair, the tone of the CBI press release is quite balanced in how it portrays the pros and cons of personal web use at work. It’s a shame the 90 minutes and £10.6bn figures are lightly to see the most coverage because other parts of the analysis make a lot of sense:

    – “Employers need to decide for themselves what level of non-work surfing is acceptable and then set out clear boundaries”

    – “Productivity and morale can increase when firms trust staff to use the web sensibly”

    – “many companies understand the importance of the internet to personal and social lives, and see reasonable use of the web at work as a morale booster. Indeed, only 14% of firms restricted web access altogether”

    In the drive towards greater use of social media, enterprise 2.0 or whatever you want to call it, there’s a need to help employers catch up so the employee-employer contract can be renegotiated to adapt to new forms of information. It’s clearly not just about morale: a well-connected employee with access to online tools they learned to use outside of work is likely to be much more productive than someone without those skills.

    As a starting point, employers need to understand the benefits and risks of employee use of IT facilities, and formalise the rules for how these are used – in the same way that UK government has now started formalising the rules for civil servants’ use of social media.

  3. Thanks for the comments Steph. Agree that the report is a bit more balanced than my headline issues portray. Certainly the abstracts you quote are balanced and sensible. I just wish they hadn’t equated non-work related internet use with productivity savings elsewhere in the report.

    The project you mention sounds quite interesting. I hope you’ll be able to say more about it next month.

  4. Darryl – thanks for the feedback. Certainly the internet and web are changing the way us humans behave and we’re still at the very beginning of this particular evolutionary curve. If we are true to Dawinian principles, efficiency will prevail, though hopefully not at the expense human well-being.

  5. Your optimism is encouraging. Efficiency does seem a natural outcome of biological processes, though I find myself occasionally redefining that concept living in Britain.

    Your caution is salient. Whilst I will not claim to be an expert on Darwin, despite having Origin of the Species in my library, it seems that human well-being is not a feature of his science as such – surviving certainly, just not thriving.

    Nietzsche has this annoying habit of appearing in corporate boardrooms, unseen and uninvited, yet conspicuously present and persuasive when/in power matters.

    You might say Nietzsche is to Darwin as BT is to TCP-IP.

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