HR review has reported that staff use of the internet to conduct personal searches costs the UK economy £10.6bn each year, according to new research by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which suggest that the average British worker spends 90 minutes a week during working hours surfing the web for personal use. Additionally, the CBI found that 60 per cent of employers believe their staff use office time outside of lunch hours and formal breaks regularly to look at non-work sites.


“While an hour and a half a week may sound like a lot, it is not always wasted time. Productivity and morale can increase when firms trust staff to use the web sensibly to catch up with friends on Facebook, pay household bills, or search for a cheap flight,” stated John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general. However, he continued, the issue can become a problem when workers are spending excessive amounts of time surfing the web or are downloading adult material or putting an organisation’s reputation at risk.


Comment: While Toby Thompson, a networked learning executive at the Cranfield School of Management, has adopted the ‘voice of sanity’ in this debate by suggesting that managers in the UK need to strike the correct balance in terms of the freedom they permit staff over internet use, there is another way of looking at this whole phenomenon.


Surfing the web is just one of many self-development activities that workers not only carry out but also take responsibility for carrying out on a regular basis. As ‘learning’ becomes increasingly granular and informal, so people do not have to take up a formal course of study in order to ‘learn’ what they need to know in order to do their jobs and/or run their lives.


Surfing the web should be seen as part of a worker’s training and development activities. So, just as it is false accounting to measure the cost of training and development purely in terms of lost production, so is deciding that staff carrying out their own development activities by searching the web is costing UK plc £10.6bn a year.


After all, they can’t all be looking at pornography, can they?