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Sinful messages at work

London, Sept. 15 (Reuters): Flirting with colleagues, scheming against the boss and gossiping about co-workers are among the most common Instant Messenger, or IM, missives circulating around the office, according to a new survey.

So-called “IMing” — the act of sending quick message exchanges to other Internet users — has become a popular workplace pastime. Just as they did with e-mail, corporations have now embraced IM technology as it enables co-workers in large organisations to converse quickly and cheaply. But IM’s popularity has its drawbacks, say experts.

Because many users believe it cannot be monitored by the boss, many freely fire off messages ranging from cruel cracks about a colleague’s hair to sensitive information about major corporate projects.

“Businesses don’t really monitor IMing,” said Nigel Hawthorn, European marketing director for Blue Coat Systems, a Web security firm that conducted the survey of over 300 firms in the US and Britain, the world’s two largest IM markets. “If you’re leaning forward and typing away at your machine, who’s to know what you’re typing about.”

In the UK, 65 per cent of the 204 respondents said they use IM for personal purposes during work hours, the survey said.

Half the UK respondents admitted to peppering their IMs with abusive language; 40 per cent used IM to conspire on colleagues during conference calls and nearly one-third confessed to “making sexual advances” in the easily disguised dialogue box.

US respondents gave more tame accounts of their IM usage. For example, less than one in five American survey participants said they used IM to comment on senior management or to flirt.

One explanation for the disparity is the Big Brother notion. Nearly 71 per cent of US respondents believed — correctly — that IM messages could be traced.

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