Social media costing UK economy up to £14 billion a year in lost time

According to poll of 1000 UK workers by MyJobGroup.co.uk, the operator of a number of regional jobs sites across the UK, almost two million employees spend more than 60 minutes a day online on social networking sites and services.

Researchers found that almost 6% of respondents of the UK's 34 million-strong workforce spent over an hour per day on social media whilst at work – amounting to more than one eighth of their entire working day.

And with UK GDP tipping the scales at £2 trillion in 2009, the firm says that Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks could potentially be costing the UK up to £14 billion in lost work time, with SMEs likely to be hardest hit by the drop in productivity.

The survey also revealed that more than half (55%) of the UK's working population now accesses social media whilst at work, with a third of those (roughly six million) spending more than 30 minutes on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

What's interesting about the survey is the psychological attitude that workers have towards their lost work time to social networking, as only 14% admitted to being less productive as a result of social media and 10% even claimed social media had made them more productive.

This attitude, Infosecurity notes, manifested itself further with only a third of workers saying that social networking sites should be banned from the work environment.

Lee Fayer, MyJobGroup's managing director, said that the results clearly show that UK workers are spending increased time whilst at work on social media networks, which, left unchecked, could have negative repercussions on the productivity of many companies across the country.

"Whilst we're certainly not kill-joys, people spending over an hour per day in work time on the likes of Facebook and Twitter are seriously hampering companies' efforts to boost productivity, which is more important than ever given the fragile state of our economy", he said.

So what do the IT security vendors have to say about the issue?

Richard Turner, chief executive of Clearswift, said that it comes no surprise to that people are spending time on social networking sites at work, but rather than focusing purely on the negative, progressive companies are accepting that such technologies are now an integral part of many people's lives.

"Few people work a standard 9 - 5 day anymore and there is an increasing blurring between work and leisure time. Switched on businesses realise this, in fact, in recent research Clearswift did, more than half of managers believe that making use of web collaboration technologies is now critical to the future success of their business", he said.

According to Turner, businesses can benefit considerably from adopting a more reasonable approach to the use of social media at work, with better morale, improved communication with colleagues and customers, and the ability to use employees' social networks to the benefit of the business.

"Almost a third (28%) of employees say there is an expectation that they will maintain a social media presence on sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter for work purposes, and an even higher proportion (33%) stated that they are happy to use their own private social networks to the advantage of the business", he said, citing Clearswift's own studies.

"Our research suggests that as many as a fifth (21%) of people would turn down a job that did not allow them to access social networking sites or personal email during work time. This stark reality makes it clear that companies need to be careful that they are not alienating a new generation who expect more flexibility at work", he added.

Turner concludes that, yes, people are more active on social networks at work these days, but the key is for companies to take a more reasonable approach through the use of better policies and control, to ultimately open up the web to allow innovation to flourish.

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