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Watch out for cyberslackers

Jerusalem, Aug. 29 (Reuters): If you are at work, chances are you are probably doing it right now.

Walk into any large office, and you will most likely hear the tell-tale computer bleeps of chat programmes and online games, accompanied by furious mouse-clicking. Employees may seem busy, but many are wasting time on the Internet, or “cyberslacking”.

Studies worldwide suggest employees spend about a fifth of their work shifts engaging in personal activities. Their favourite time waster' The Internet. Patricia Wallace, author of the 2004 book The Internet in the Workplace: How New Technology Is Transforming Work, said employees have always found ways to avoid working too hard.

“The issue is now you have something that seems to be genuinely irresistible because it’s such a gateway to the whole planet that’s right there on your desk and easily concealed to people passing by,” said Wallace, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Employees who cyberslack have been shown to spend most of their time emailing, and almost a third of their messages were not related to work, said James Philips, a psychology professor at Australia’s Monash University.

Many workers manage finances or shop online. Popular social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are also common cyberslacking destinations. It is not uncommon to see a user write on his “status” report that he or she is “at work”.

Some companies, which spend millions on Web access, have fired workers for cyberslacking, citing concerns about inappropriate activities. But hiding it has become easier — people can access the Internet through cellphones, for instance. Films and television shows have been focusing on the phenomenon.

Time-wasting at work was spoofed in the 1999 cult film Office Space, while The Office, a British TV comedy that now has a US version, has shown characters playing a computer war game as part of what they described as a team-building exercise.

Walter Block, a professor of economics at Loyola University in New Orleans, pointed to similarities between employees who slacked off before the computer age and those who waste time in cyberspace. “I think they do it for the same reason they did it before — some people, because they’re cheating their boss, other people, because it helps them work,” Block said.

Office-dedicated websites have been popping up. Workers can go to www.overheardintheoffice.com to post and rate humourous quotes overheard at their workplaces.

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