Why Websense's FUD doesn't add up

Why Websense's FUD doesn't add up

Summary: In response to one ZDNet reader's question regarding a previous post (see: Questionable $178B loss: Employees' fault? Or management's?

TOPICS: Browser

In response to one ZDNet reader's question regarding a previous post (see: Questionable $178B loss: Employees' fault? Or management's?), I decided to, as best as I possibly could, figure out how Websense might have arrived at such a huge number to represent the total annual dollar losses that can be attributed to personal usage of the Web by US employees while on the job.  In its press release, Websense calls this "cyberslacking."  Setting aside any question as to the legitimacy of such a statistic when it comes from a vendor that might benefit from the fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) that stat creates, Websense's announcement does not provide the nitty gritty math behind its calculation. So it isn't pefectly clear how the company arrived at the $178B total.  I've placed a call to the company's manager of public relations Jennifer Culter to get the breakdown.

First, an outline of the data that the press release cites. 

  • 68 million US employees have access to the Internet.  The source is IDC.
  • 44.7% said web surfing a distraction at work.  The source is an AOL/Salary.com survey with a sample size fo 10,000.  This stat doesn't get used in the calculations (even though the sample is probably more projectable than anything else Websense uses). 
  • 50 percent of workers surveyed use their  Internet access at work for work and personal reasons. The source is a Websense/Harris Interactive Survey.  No sample size was provided in the release.  Before examining this datapoint, I'll just say for now that, for the rest of this blog, I'll refer to this group as "admitted cyberslackers."
  • Use of the Internet for personal reasons while on the job averages out to be 5.9 hours per employee.  The source is the aforementioned Websense/Harris Interactive Survey. 
  • Then, the press release cites usage of the average U.S. salary, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s National Compensation Survey but doesn't give the figure

Via e-mail, Culter filled in several important blanks:

  • The average U.S. salary is $17.75 per hour.  I looked for this data on the U.S. Bureau of Labor's Web site and found it, but it's old data from 2003.  There's  a more recent document from 2004 that says it's $17.80 per year with the following qualification: Annual wages have been calculated by multiplying the hourly mean wage by a "year-round, full-time" hours figure of 2,080.  So, had Websense's public relations department been on the ball, they would have used the higher number and it would have tacked on an additional $534 million for a total of $178.534 billion.  But I won't split hairs on this.
  • The average number of weeks worked per year per full time worker is 50.  No source is cited by I think that's a fair estimate.
  • The sample population for the Websense/Harris Interactive survey cited in the press release consisted of 354 IT decision makers and 500 employees.
  • The 5.9 hours per week usage of the Internet for personal reasons while at work is an estimate of employees' personal usage by the 354 IT decision makers.
  • The description of the survey's methdology says "The IT decision-makers survey was conducted online...among a nationwide cross section of 354 IT decision-makers in companies with more than 100 employees" and that "Data are representative of those employees and IT decision-makers surveyed" and then goes on to say "This online sample is not a probability sample."
  • The sample was randomly selected as opposed to coming from Websense's customer list.

So, using this data, Culter says the calculation went as follows:

  • 68 million US employees with Internet access at work  (multiplied by)
  • the 50 percent who admitted to cyberslacking = 34 million (multiplied by)
  • the 5.9 hours per week that employees are estimated to spend using the Internet while at work = 200,600,000 total estimated cyberslacking hours per week in the US (multiplied by)
  • The $17.75 hourly cost per employee (not including benefits) = $3,560,650,000 supposedly lost per week in the US as a result of cyberslacking employees (multiplied by)
  • 50 weeks worked per year per cyberslacking working = $178.033 billion dollars lost per year due to cyberslacking in the U.S.

So, there's the calculation for you.

But, regardless of the breakdown, the $178B number is still suspect. 

Let's first start with the usage of the 68 million US employees that were used as the starting point for Websense's calcuations.  I checked with IDC to find out if the 68 million employees cited in the study that was quoted by WebSense were full-time employees.  Via e-mail, IDC spokesman Mike Shirer told me "We don't distinguish between full-time and part-time in the survey used to generate this.  We just look for 'business employees' of any stripe."  Therefore, any application of the $17.75 per hour figure (a number for full-time employees) to a number whose composition is not 100 percent full-time employees (eg: the 68 million number used by Websense in its calculations) is a deceptive marriage of two unrelated datapoints.  If the house of cards doesn't fall down based on this point alone, there is more.

Whereas the 50 percent number that was used to estimate the total number of employees who are cyberslacking is based on employees who admitted to using the Internet for personal reasons while at work, the 5.9 hours per week that those employees are implied to be engaged in cyberslacking comes from the IT decision makers and not the supposed cyberslackers themselves.  

Not only that, the 5.9 hours itself is suspect.  By Websense's own admission, the sample population did not come from Websense's customer list and it therefore can presumed that many of them don't have the sort of solutions that Websense makes -- solutions that would have given them some reliable data on which to base their estimates.  Yet, with more than 100 employees for each of the surveyed IT decision makers to be keeping an eye on without such tools, they're still able to estimate the average number of hours that each of the cyberslackers in their companies are cyberslacking.  Hmm.

Another problem.  Forget any of the aforementioned questions I've raised about the number of hours American workers are supposedly cyberslacking.  The $178B total annual losses assumes that all of these hours spent on the Web for personal reasons are indeed hours that the managers of the so-called cyberslackers would view as "cyberslacking."  What if many of the companies surveyed permit such usage of the Web as long as employees are meeting their documented performance goals? In that case, those employees are not cyberslacking and the hours they spend on the Web aren't being viewed in terms of monetary losses by those companies.  Therefore, that "potential loss" cannot be factored into any calculation of total annual losses due to cyberslacking.

There are probably plenty of other possibilities that we could come up with that would blow up the $178B number.  When I questioned the the marriage of the 68 million number to the full time salary data, Websense's Culter responded with statement that deals with any challenges to Websense's assertions.  Said Culter via e-mail:

I think our estimates are in line with the recent survey that Salary.com and AOL put out that "employers spend $759 billion per year" on lost productivity. In that article, 44.7% of employees cited web surfing as their #1 distraction. Also, I think that the "50% of employees that say they surf the internet for personal reasons in the workplace" stat found in our Web@Work survey is a conservative figure—that’s only what employees admit to doing, not necessarily what is actually occurring. For example, in comparison 98% of IT managers surveyed reported that their employees did engage in at least some personal surfing.

All of this may be true.  Websense's estimates could very well be in line with other studies and that 50 percent number may be conservative.  But in its press release, Websense didn't say that these were estimates based on creative accounting that the company thinks are in line with other studies.  In its press release, Websense very definitively says:

Websense, Inc. (NASDAQ: WBSN), the world’s leading provider of employee internet management solutions, today announced that internet misuse in the workplace costs American corporations more than $178 billion annually in lost productivity. This translates into a loss of more than $5,000 per employee per year.

Correctly worded, so as not to confused estimates or opinions with fact, this could have said "today estimated that Internet misuse in the workplace could be costing American corporations as much as $178 billion annually in lost productivity." But the release doesn't say that. 

Topic: Browser

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • cyberslacking and multitasking, perfect together

    did they include an internet radio playing while working in the totals? Or calling up a website in between other tasks? In other words were they just staring at the screen for 5 1/2 hours, or were they using it as a break in between other work, or say while something printed out? I hate advertising passing itself off as fact.
  • WebSense[sic]

    I think the article is interesting and raises some questions. However, I question this article when every instance of Websense is incorrectly written. From reviewing the Websense website, looking at their literature and being somewhat familiar w/their product from a past life the company name is written as Websense and not WebSense. It may be a minor issue but when you're nit picking their stats then you deserve some level of nit picking as well. If you're going to write an article about CisCo, iBM, SymanTec or MicroSoft would you write it as I've just written? Please do your basic elementary research first. It makes it difficult to take your article seriously when the name of the company you're writing about isn't even written correctly.
    • Websense [unsic]

      Fixed. Although, I challenge the notion that the integrity of the entire piece should be "questioned" on the basis of the mis-rendering. How is that germaine to the reporting in this case? What part of what I wrote should be called into question?

  • Math!

    Luckily (for WebSense) most people can't do the math, and the refutation of the "study" (advertisement) is mind-numbing. The definition of success is for your side to have a "zinger" that can be groked in 10 seconds or less. If the refutation takes longer, or requires critical thought, the original party has already won! We can imagine this becoming one of those statistics everyone quotes, but no one understands, if only it weren't for the fact that every PR company now knows how to generate these pseudo-statistics and we're drowning in them.
  • Lost hours

    It seems to me that any avenue that has the ability to connect all of us to each other and identify the idea that we are all ONE cannot be measured in lost hours. For those who abuse the system a stern warning should suffice. If it continues a solution could be to lock them out.
  • Cyberslacking

    I am old enough to remember pre-internet days and guess what there were slackers then. Telephones were popular and people talked to one another. Also the 50 weeks is ridiculous, most employees have more than two weeks vacation.
  • David does it true.

    Suprfli is certainly entitled to his opinion on this article. Mine is entirely different. When someone is dumping a load of C@$# on your property when you know they sell the shovels to clean it up, they should be called on it.
    Thanx, David.
  • Let's see.......

    Before the advent of the internet (and after), employers lost $218 billion (I used the same math to arrive at this number) on phone calls interoffice gossip, watercooler chat, crosswords/comics in the company paper. Add to that the "personal" trips in the company car.

    So I have the solution (sarcasm begins here) I can sell you GPS mappers for each employee so you know where they are at all times. When you see a group "mingling" fine them an hours pay. When they are outside the direct line between work and the customer fine them for mileage wear and tear and the time consumed rounded to the highest hour.

    This is just ridicules. People have always found ways to break the monotony of work. The internet has just taken the place of some of them. Heck, my wife IM's me at work. There are policies out there at some companies that are against that sort of thing. Yet, there is no policy against receiving personal calls. I can send and receive IM's almost as fast as conversation and usually to avoid typing they are kept VERY brief. Avioding calling frees up a phone line the operator and the time it takes someone to track me down if away from my desk. Which is more efficient? I think it's a puah and I only say that because there are always SOME that will abuse it.
  • Are you a cyberslacker?

    How much time did we all spend reading David's article, reading the posts and posting our replies? I spent about 10 minutes. I don't have a problem with the math. It may not be an accurate figure, but it is conceivable. However, I am also much more in favor of company managers acually managing their staff members instead of looking to another piece of technology to do it for them. jmho
  • WebSense FUD

    It's not about the statistics -- Management should ask themselves tough leadership questions. Successful, above average companies are about 1) Employee Satisfaction, 2) Customer Satisfaction, and 3) Cash Flow. The proper question is: What is it about the Company (culture), the Leadership, and the Job that causes employees to be slackers? No software or hardware in the entire universe can provide the solution....

  • WebSense

    I did some contract work for them some years back.
    My recollection was that they hired people off the street, locked them in a room on the first floor, then had them surf the internet for potentially restrictive web sites that they used to build their subscription service.
  • Slacking?

    As the article states at one point, as long as employees are meeting or exceeding their performance objectives and not surfing porn, et cetera then who really cares if they surf 1 or 20 hours per week? Know that a lot of jobs require way more than 40 hours per week due to many factors, the least of which is a few hours spent surfing.

    Smart employers know that happy employees are more productive than those who are not- what a concept!

    The sad part is that even if WebNONsense had included those words such as estimate, the figure published would still be bandied about as fact.

    Keep 'em honest DB!

  • Pot calling the kettle black - media publishes idiotic productivity numbers

    I agree their numbers are ridiculous but they are just doing what you media types do all the time:

    Publishing ridiculous studies with extrapolated large numbers on how businesses are losing or wasting money.

    Example: The headlines on how many billions of dollars companies lose due to a virus attack.

    Example: Self-proclaimed industry experts/consultants that say junkmail costs companies billions in wasted productivity.

    The flaw with all these studies is that they assume workers are machines or robots with every minute accounted for.

    Then using outdated 1950's style industrial engineering analysis they calculate that the average of 5 minutes per hour wasted doing xyz (sorting junkmail, rebooting because of a virus, etc.) times the number of workers, etc. equals some huge number.

    The truth is that workers are not machines. Even without viruses, or junkmail there is always time to chat with a co-worker, linger in the hallway, make an extra trip to the bathroom, buy another soda or candy bar from the vending machine etc.

    So although the frustration level may be higher having to deal with viruses or junkmail, workers can always find things to do other than work.

    Just because today it is "surfing the web" doesn't mean the workers of yesteryear spent every second of the workday always being productive.
  • Web$en$e i$ non$en$e alright!!!!

    Sounds like they're taking le$$on$ from Bill gateS and hi$ crew at M$!!!!!
  • websense nonsense

    Back in 1955 I read a great book called "How to Lie With Statistics". It's obviously still in print!
    • How to Lie With Stastics

      I read the same book and it was quite enlightening. Anybody can prove anything with statistics so long as they chose only data to support their premise.
  • Lost Time

    On average, a person pauses a minute for every five minutes he or she works. This means for every eight hour day, a worker has not worked 80 minutes. Using Websense's caluculations, this pausing is costing American industry $133,055,000,000! Something must be done before it is too late!!!
  • WebSense Non-Abuse

    As a Internet consultant tasked with implementing WebSense in office settings, I suspect that the WebSense numbers may even be low. I normally get a baseline using WebSense before I start blocking websites with the product. My customers are shocked by what they find. I turn on WebSense blocking then turn in my reports of unregulated access and watch the fireworks.
    • I've used Websense for awhile now

      The reports of how much time people spend doing personal web surfing ARE real eye-openers. People that you thought were so busy working are actually getting paid to play. I'm not sure what to think of the numbers that Websense presented, but every company should try this product and take a look at how "hard" their employees are really working. Sit down before you look at the reports.

      Add it up. Internet access, e-mail, telephone and personal interaction. If someone abuses all of these things, they pretty much have no time left for work.
      AV .
  • Cyberslacking

    Even if Websenses computation is incorrect and the real number is less by an order of magnitude, the number is astonishing. At the age of 20 when I first joined the labor force I went to work for a major aerospace company as a technician. We were allowed a 10 minute break in the morning half of the shift and another 10 minute break in the afternoon half of the shift and 45 minutes for lunch in the company cafeteria. The rest of the time, you were expected to be working. Restroom calls were expected to be taken care of during your breaks. No personal phone calls were allowed unless it was an emergency. If you were not at your workstation, then you had to ask your supervisor permission to leave and tell him where you were going and why and when you would return. Four years later I rejoined that company as an graduate engineer and the same rules applied except having to inform you boss when you left your workstation, but you were only allowed to leave if it was on company business and you needed to sign out on a public bulletin board so anyone could determine your whereabouts. No one complained. The company well and everyone felt the company consequently had the right to expect you to work fulltime. That practice seems to be a novelity today.