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Employment experts suggest that the cost to business of employees surfing the net for their Christmas shopping on company time could be £7 billion this year, although frankly this research is somewhat misleading.

The prediction comes from the Employment Law Advisory Service (ELAS), which advises employers to lay down rules for staff to minimise the risk of losing hours to internet shopping.

All things considered, this sounds a bit Orwellian for our liking. But first, let's look more at this ELAS research...

The £7 billion figure was calculated by estimating an average of half an hour a day per worker spent shopping online at an average hourly wage of £12.50.

Peter Mooney of ELAS believes 'sophisticated' websites will lure workers into wasting company time:

“Very few employers are so Scrooge-like that they wouldn’t forgive their staff the occasional glance at Christmas presents online."

"But with sophisticated – and at times, addictive - websites now geared to keeping shoppers online for as long as possible, even an occasional glance can turn into half an hour browsing."

"That time soon adds up, and it costs UK Plc billions"

Actually, sophisticated websites help consumers get from A to B a little faster. Remember the 40-second homepage loading speed for Boo.com? Employers should be thankful that we've increased website efficiency, navigation, checkout processes and page loading speeds. The aim of retail sites is to convert, after all.

So why is this headline £7bn figure from ELAS misleading?

Well, perhaps one reason why workers shop on 'company' time is the due to the disappearance of the traditional lunch hour. A 2004 Eurest Lunchtime Report revealed that only one in five workers in the UK take a full hour’s lunch break.

The average lunch break for British workers was just 27 minutes, with only 57% of people taking a lunch break every day, this compares with 73% in 1990.

With many workers willing to work through lunch hours or stay late to complete tasks, the TUC estimates that Britain’s employers are getting £23 billion every year in free overtime, which puts that ELAS figure of £7 billion into perspective. Balance, folks.

We therefore recommend hearty amounts of office-based seasonal shopping, and no restrictive rules, web monitoring, or other crafty schemes to crack down on your employees during this forthcoming time of goodwill.

Right, boss?

Graham Charlton

Published 30 October, 2006 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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