Why Web Surfing at Work Is a Nonproblem

U.S. productivity keeps on growing. Let the employees surf!

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As long as U.S. productivity continues to grow at a solid clip, why do managers feel that it's necessary to moderate their employees' use of the Internet?

Consider the results of a new survey by the Creative Group, a staffing firm: The survey found that a majority— 57 percent—of executives at large U.S. companies and advertising agencies think it ' s OK if employees surf the W eb for leisure purposes at work.

But 41 percent, which is certainly not a small number, are not OK with nonwork-related Web surfing. (Note: Apparently 2 percent of these executives say they "don't know" if employees should be allowed to surf. I "don't know" if they should be fired or made CEO for that kind of indecision/nuanced thinking.)

The bosses who say it's OK to log on were asked to name their maximum amount of nonwork surfing time. The average of their responses: 32 minutes.

So the average American can probably get away with about a half-hour of E-commerce each day.

(Of course, the average American may do much more than that. A 2005 Salary.com survey found the average worker wastes about two hours out of each eight-hour day, with Internet surfing rated the biggest time waster.)

I'm not sure we should be concerned with this, except on a case-by-case basis. If an employee is unable to determine decent boundaries and isn't getting his or her work done, an employer obviously needs to address the issue.

But a look at productivity data tells me that the lure of the Web isn't hurting U.S. companies:

Productivity [growth] averaged about 2.7% annually from 1948 to 1970, then slowed to 1.6% from 1971 to 1995. Since then, productivity has grown about 2.5% annually. In 2007, productivity increased 1.4%.

Internet surfing likely increases the awareness (political, social, commercial) of employees and gives companies a better competitive edge and a better sense of trends, tastes, and the sorts of things that drive future growth.

What's your take? Does Web surfing help you in your job, or do you pity your employer for having to pay for the wasted time?