Costs of Doing Business   1 comment

Every 6 months or so, some newspaper or financial magazine posts an article reporting on a study showing massive financial losses to business by employees “playing around” on the Internet. “People using computers for something other than business” has been referred to as “cyberloafing” or cyberslacking (there’s a wikipedia article on the topic). These articles are usually dragged out when someone wants to justify spending IT dollars monitoring their employees. The target in today’s Sydney Morning Herald is Facebook.

From the article:

Richard Cullen of SurfControl, an internet filtering company, estimates the site may be costing Australian businesses $5 billion a year. “Our analysis shows that Facebook is the new, and costly, time-waster,” he said.

The report calculates that if an employee spends an hour each day on Facebook, it costs the company more than $6200 a year. There are about 800,000 workplaces in Australia.

Now, aside from an obvious conflict of interest in the source here (a company that sells filtering software may not be the most unbiased source), this analysis is lacking in detail and seems laughably basic. $6,200×800,000=$4.97 billion (Australian), sure. However, this assumes 1 worker per workplace wastes an hour per day, and (given there are actually 246 work days in the year, where 365 days – 104 weekend days – 15 vacation/holiday days = 246), that slacker makes $25/hr.

Let’s say that this is accurate, for the sake of argument. That is, you’re running a business in Queensland, and you fit this analysis… somewhere in your organization there’s a person making $25/hr who is spending an hour a day on Facebook. Think for a minute about what you’re actually losing, and what the costs are of remediation. First, employee time is not a fixed asset. If I hire someone to perform a set of job functions, and there is slack time during the day when those functions are not required, there is no “loss” if the employee is surfing around Facebook (or Digg or Google or whatever is the current Internet-time-waster-meme). If, on the other hand, this slack time does not exist, either the employee is falling behind (and I’m losing business) or someone else is doing the employee’s job. In either of these cases, however, the manager/supervisor of the employees in question ought to know that they have an unreliable employee. Blocking Facebook isn’t going to turn your slacker into a completely productive employee – they’ll find something else to waste an hour a day doing. Your real problem here isn’t your slacker employee, it’s your manager who isn’t managing or your supervisor who isn’t supervising.

Next, think about hidden benefits of the “slacker activity”. If someone is surfing Facebook, they may actually be getting access to resources that make it easier for them to do their job. Aside from the obvious benefits to your Recruiters for surfing a social networking site, think of the advantages to your IT staff for reading newsgroups or email lists or blogs. Think of the time your employees save surfing the web between tasks enabling them to find a plumber or electrician for a problem at home; there may not be a direct benefit to you as an employer here, but getting a fix arranged for that burst pipe at home enables them to concentrate on their job, making them more productive.

Certainly, there are security issues with allowing your employees unfettered access to the Internet. Kevin Mitnick has written several books on the hazards of seemingly innocent information when it is accessible by social engineers, as have numerous other authors. There are other employee-employer issues, like sexual harassment claims if one of your employees is surfing porn at work and offending an officemate. There are indeed reasons to take steps to protect your institutional network from web sites hosting malicious content. When it comes to making your employees maximize their work hours, however, you can’t fix a people problem with a technical solution.

Manage your managers!

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Posted August 20, 2007 by padraic2112 in management, security, tech, web sites

One response to “Costs of Doing Business

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  1. Pingback: How To Hire A Sysadmin, Part II « Pat’s Daily Grind

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