FUD 2.0

FUD 2.0

21st century fear as vendor cites big scary numbers

Last week I fired my entire staff. Why? Because — all evidence aside — they are obviously a bunch of slackers. I know it's true — even if my own eyes tell me otherwise — because there's research to prove it. An excess of research, in fact.

I'm sure in many executives' minds the sequence went something like this: online = Internet = computer = IT department = CIO

For years a steady stream of research (much of it vendor-based or subsidized) has trumpeted workplace productivity loss, pointing an accusing finger at such Internet-enabled culprits as online gambling, spam, personal e-mail and digital downloads. And of course, the research invariably cites a dollar number to all this lost productivity — usually at a national or global level, and usually in the millions or billions (big, scary numbers).

Here's a typical example from earlier this year:

According to a survey of 849 e-mail users conducted during March 2007, Nucleus Research and KnowledgeStorm found that two out of every three e-mail messages received by today's business users are spam. As a result, users are spending 16 seconds identifying and deleting each spam e-mail, which translates into an annual cost of $US70 billion to all US businesses in lost worker productivity.

Okay, now time to come clean: I didn't really fire my staff. But what might have sent me over the edge — the final straw of lost productivity in big, scary numbers — were a raft of online and print stories premised on a SurfControl press release. (In the spirit of truth in reporting, I can't find the release on the company's Web site, but the pervasive sameness of the story in every media outlet makes me think that it was the source.) Here's a pull from AAP:

Internet filtering specialist SurfControl estimates the Facebook craze could cost businesses more than $5 billion a year. According to SurfControl figures, if just one employee spent an hour a day on Facebook, it could cost their business $6200 a year.

With 800,000 businesses in Australia, these figures translate to $5 billion a year.

The story was widely reported throughout Australia, and even picked up by some overseas outlets. I am sure bosses everywhere read it and wept — more productivity loss because of the damn Internet! Worse, I'm sure in many executives' minds the sequence went something like this: online = Internet = computer = IT department = CIO. So the managerial gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair would have been directed at you.

The real clincher in this whole story, though, was a couple of quotes from Facebook enthusiasts who admitted slacking off at work. The one that worked for me (pun intended) was from an anonymous blogger: "Of course everyone checks Facebook at work, duh! I don't have neither Internet nor a TV at home because I like doing more useful things with my time when I'm off work."

And this is our paragon of worker productivity?

Mind you, reading and writing about research results that start with the word "If" and then multiply numbers based on assumptions to reach astronomical figures are probably a waste of productivity, too. I certainly have more useful things to do with my time — even when I'm at work.

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