Lost Productivity a Downside to Holiday E-commerce?

Ann All
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10 Steps to Improve Productivity

Tips to help improve your productivity while reducing your stress.

Online retailers are jazzed by sales prospects for Cyber Monday. Employers not so much. Like organized sports, shopping (organized or not) is a great American pastime. Thanks to the Internet, people can indulge their interests in these things around the clock, including hours spent at the office when they should ostensibly be working.


No one knows how much productivity is lost to these kinds of activities but plenty of people seem to find it fun to speculate. A couple of years ago staffing company Challenger, Gray & Christmas grabbed some headlines with its estimates of downtime attributable to employees' checking out online coverage of the men's NCAA college basketball tournament.


In much the same way, the National Retail Federation and other organizations are getting lots of media coverage with some showy predictions for Cyber Monday. This "holiday" was created by Shop.org, a division of the retail federation, in 2005, after 77 percent of online retailers reported a sales surge on the Monday after Thanksgiving when most workers return to the office. Some of them:

  • The National Retail Federation expects 106 million people to shop online today, up from 96.5 million last year.
  • According to Shop.org's eHoliday Survey of 8,778 consumers earlier this month, 54.5 percent of workers with Internet access plan to shop for holiday gifts from the office.
  • Overall spending on Cyber Monday will exceed $950 million, says Brad Wilson, founder and editor in chief of BradDeals.com. Wilson believes 9 million shoppers will place orders today, with 60 percent doing so from their workplaces.


Not surprisingly, some employers block access to shopping sites at work. A Robert Half Technology survey found 48 percent of CIOs said they block access to online shopping sites, while 34 percent allow access but monitor activity for excessive use. Just 14 percent allow unrestricted access to such sites. The CIOs whose companies allow shopping said they expect employees to spend three hours per week, on average, shopping for online deals while at work this holiday season.

One company contacted by the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette opted not to reveal its computer usage policies, with an unnamed spokesperson telling the reporter that company executives feared looking bad whether or not they restrict online shopping at the office. A consulting company, which bills clients for its employees' time, is "very serious" about restricting online personal activities and has fired three employees for such offenses as sending personal instant messages during work hours. A law firm takes a more balanced approach allowing employees to conduct personal business on their PCs during lunch breaks provided they comply with other policies. An architectural firm also allows "modest personal time" on company PCs. (I hope it's spelled out more clearly to employees, as one person's "modest" is another's "excessive.")


I like the approach of giving employees an hour or so of free time each day for personal online activities, whether it's shopping, vacation planning or what have you. (Some certain obvious exceptions apply, of course. I think it's safe to say nobody wants an employee like the Securities and Exchange Commission attorney who admitted he "sometimes spent as much as eight hours viewing pornography from his office computer," according to a Washington Post story.)

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