Sex content at work leaves bosses hot under collar

3 Sep 2004

A global study conducted by Queen’s University Belfast has found that one third of employees continue to use business email to send sexual content to colleagues and others outside the company, while one third also use internet access at work to download pornography.

The study, which was commissioned by London Stock Exchange-listed enterprise web and email filtering firm SurfControl and conducted by Dr Monica Whitty in the School of Psychology at Queen’s University, surveyed employee use of internet and email at 350 companies in the US, the UK and Australia. Of these, slightly more than half the companies were in the US.

In response to the question: “Have you ever used email in the workplace to send sexual material to a colleague?” about one third (28pc) said they had. A small minority of the total surveyed, about 3pc, said they did so every day.

A slightly higher number, about 31pc, said they’d emailed “sexual material to someone outside of (their) workplace,” and 4pc admitted doing it every day.

“Despite corporate efforts to train and educate staff on the risks associated with internet communications, a surprising level of web and email abuse persists,” said Kevin Blakeman, president, the Americas, for SurfControl. “This survey revealed that there continues to be an enormous potential for legal liability, significant drain on companies’ technology resources and huge amounts of time wasted in non-business related pursuits.”

Employee use of web access while at work showed that one third (28pc) of those surveyed said they had downloaded sexually explicit content from the web while on the job. Meanwhile, just over half of those asked (51pc) said they had “been exposed to sexually explicit material by co-workers who had downloaded it from the web.”

“Clearly, companies must combine detailed acceptable use policies with effective technology to manage email and internet access,” Blakeman said. “IT managers should monitor vigilantly for abuses so they can minimise risk to the organisation and assure network resources are properly used.”

The survey also found abuse to be slightly higher in organisations with more than 500 employees. For example, of the 31pc of employees who sent sexually explicit material outside the workplace, 36.2pc worked at companies larger than 500 employees while 22.6pc worked for companies with 20 employees or less.

US respondents were slightly less likely to send sexual material via email to colleagues or to download sexually explicit material from the web than respondents from the UK or Australia, according to the survey.

“US businesses face increasing legal liabilities from inappropriate web use in the office,” Blakeman said. “No business can afford even one employee jeopardising the entire organisation through irresponsible and reckless internet activity.”

The survey found that about 16pc of those who saw sexually explicit material on a colleague’s computer would consider taking some form of legal action.

The survey, conducted between 17 May 17 and 23 August, was mailed to randomly selected business organisations in Australia, the UK and the US. The businesses then invited their employees to voluntarily participate. The margin of error for the survey was +/- 5.2pc.

By John Kennedy