Study: Workplace Surfing Costs Germany Billions

Employees surfing the Web on company time are costing the German economy 104 billion marks (US$48 billion) a year, according to a new study.

Software maker Sterling Commerce GmbH, which commissioned the study, said in a statement that the research shows more than 60 percent of workers access the Internet for personal reasons at least once a day; and that one in five goes online at least 10 times daily.

On average, each employee spends 3.2 hours a week online without business reasons, the study said. This works out to lost productivity of 17.2 work days per employee per year.

"Companies need to get across to their employees that workplace Internet access is not for surfing, but for productivity," said Wilfried Heinrich, head of Sterling Commerce's press agency Denkfabrik GmbH, which compiled the study from existing data from several sources. "Employers can check which workers really need full Internet access, or just e-mail, or perhaps limited access," he added.

One solution for smaller companies could be to have Internet browsers located only on specific machines, so that bosses can observe how much time their employees spend there, said Heinrich.

German businesses have raised an outcry in recent weeks over reports that Finance Minister Hans Eichel was planning to levy income tax on workplace Internet access, as a valuable fringe benefit. The business newspaper "Handelsblatt" reported in its Wednesday edition, however, that the government had definitively withdrawn the proposal.

The Finance Ministry did not immediately return phone calls asking for comment.

Heinrich scoffed at the idea of a fringe-benefit tax, saying that the "bureaucratic costs" to employers of calculating private Internet usage in the workplace would total an estimated 400 marks per worker per month. "This isn't a tax matter, it's a matter for companies to handle inside their own enterprises," he said.

Sterling Commerce, in Düsseldorf, can be reached at +49-211-43848-0, or via the Web at http://www.sterlingcommerce.de/.

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