E-mail, the one-time productivity marvel, has turned into an unwieldy menace to many insurance companies. Once heralded as the ultimate purveyor of near real-time collaboration, e-mail's utility and business value is now in question.Despite the best filtering technology, more than 60% of what seeps into corporate in-boxes is spam, Business Week reports. And ePolicy Institute, Columbus, Ohio, reports that 50% of workplace instant messaging (IM) users send and receive risky content including attachments, jokes, gossip, confidential information and pornography.

Whether actively participating in sending and receiving unwanted messages or simply being forced to routinely delete them, unproductive internal e-mails and IM take up 30% of the typical employee's time at work, according to a study by Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn.

Carriers that have a formal corporate communications policy in place that bans e-mail and IM containing gossip, jokes, and other time-wasting content are on the right track, however, 46% of U.S. companies do not offer employees e-mail policy training, says ePolicy Institute.

The liberties taken by employees who send and receive e-mail content such as multimedia files, jokes, chitchat, and porn are but one aspect of employee downtime and lost productivity. Gartner's stats included time reading and sending personal e-mails and deleting unwanted spam, but did not include time spent surfing and shopping online.

Online marketing company Performics, a division of New York-based DoubleClick Digital Advertising Solutions, accurately predicted Monday December 5 and Monday, December 12 as "Cyber Mondays," the most popular online shopping days-second only to the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, the four Mondays-work days-between Thanksgiving and Christmas are the peak volume days during the holiday online shopping season, Performics says.

Maybe logging on to Amazon to order that scrapbooking kit for Aunt Gertrude took precedence over finalizing that year-end report.

Employees who spend 30 minutes of "recreational surfing" per day can cost a company with only 500 employees $3,000 per week (at $20 per hour per employee), notes ICC Software, Plano, Texas. Multiply that by the number of employees in your organization.

It's true that employees don't need technology to be unproductive, and employees and employers need to do their part to ensure responsible use of push and pull technology.

But if carriers allocate budget dollars to systems that block unwanted e-mail and spam, yet do not ante up to enforce e-mail and Web usage policies with their employees, who is to blame for a subsequent lack of productivity?

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