'Cyber-loafing' signposts motivation problems

Survey: While surfing the Internet, sending personal email and engaging in instant-messaging conversations steal significant amounts of office time, low staff morale is a greater problem

Businesses are losing thousands of hours' worth of productivity each year - with staff being distracted from their jobs by everything from 'cyber-loafing' to hangovers.

But while identifying those mainstays of office dead-time is nothing new in this day and age, the results of a recent silicon.com survey did throw up some interesting findings.

Cyber-loafing -- the endless hours spent by staff on email, Web surfing and IM -- is often cited as putting the biggest dent in office productivity, but respondents to the silicon.com survey believe it is simply symptomatic of a more serious issue.

While cyber-loafing was identified by 22.79 percent of respondents as the main obstacle to a productive workforce, 'low staff morale and lack of motivation' was identified by 32.39 percent of respondents -- suggesting it's the bosses and the HR departments who still have some way to go if they want to get the most out of their staff.

David Guyatt, chief executive of filtering specialist Clearswift, said companies should be employing technology to identify problems of email and Web abuse; not solely to identify problem staff and serial procrastinators with a view to disciplinary action, but to identify trends of cyber-loafing that suggest employees are unmotivated or not being challenged in their jobs.

"If you have a motivated workforce then they should be far more interested in satisfying team goals than satisfying their own whims by wasting time surfing the Web or sending personal email," said Guyatt.

"Controlling and monitoring employees' use of the internet and email is as much about learning more about your workforce and your own responsibilities as a boss as it is about simply stopping it happening."

"However, there will always be people who want to take advantage of the goodwill of a company and abuse resources available to them. Increasingly companies are turning to technology to identify such problems," he added.

The seasonal problem of "staff holidays" was singled out by 12.43 percent as a particular source of dented productivity in the summertime, especially as parents scramble to take weeks during the school holidays.

A summer of sport has also done little for the office dynamic, with 12.24 percent of respondents claiming "sports talk" about events such as Euro 2004, Wimbledon and the forthcoming Olympics is most to blame for time-wasting.

Despite industrial action on the London Underground and a perennially poor public transport network nationwide, only 6.03 percent of respondents pointed the finger of blame at the trains and buses.

Perhaps more surprising was the extent to which the often-accused (unfairly of course) IT department escaped the wrath of respondents -- assuming responsibility for "cyber-loafing" is shared across the organisation.

Only 3.95 per cent of respondents said network problems would most likely be to blame for denting productivity -- perhaps tellingly this was even less than hangovers (6.03 percent).

And it would seem nobody really blames anybody for taking time off sick. Only 2.26 percent of respondents pointed the finger at coughing and spluttering colleagues -- even if the lines between "hangovers" and genuine "sick days" can get a little blurred.