Who's Forwarding All Those Dumb E-Mail Jokes? More Than Half Of Us

More than half of employees admit to inappropriate uses of business E-mail, and IT people are more likely than others to E-mail confidential company info.

More than half of employees--including many IT workers--admit they misuse company E-mail systems for activities such as swapping lewd jokes, downloading pirated software, responding to spam, or forwarding confidential company information, according to new survey findings released this week.

Approximately 4,500 people from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany participated in the online survey, "E-Mail Use At Work," conducted in December by content-security software vendor Clearswift Ltd. Of those, half of all the respondents admit to receiving and forwarding jokes and other inappropriate material via their employers' E-mail systems.

IT workers are among the culprits circulating inappropriate material, including sexual or discriminatory jokes, the survey finds. Twenty-seven percent of U.S. and German IT personnel admitted distributing inappropriate material to colleagues. A slightly higher percentage of IT workers in the U.K. admitted E-mailing bawdy material, 31%. The U.K. also had the highest percentage--55%--of non-IT workers admitting to participating in such activity.

IT employees were more likely than non-IT workers overall to admit distributing confidential information via corporate E-mail systems. Twenty-six percent of all IT workers claimed to have sent confidential information outside the company using E-mail, compared with 10% of non-IT workers.

When it comes to using corporate systems to download pirated software, including movies, games, and applications, 10.3% of all U.S. workers, 10% of British employees, and 8.2% of German personnel admitted those misuses.

Nearly 5% of workers in all three countries say they've responded to spam offers at work.

Findings from that same Clearswift survey also revealed that 40% of workers in all three countries admit spending an hour or more every day using company E-mail systems for non-work related activities. Ten percent claimed they "never" used their employer's E-mail system for personal uses, while the remaining 50% said they spent about 30 minutes each work day on the misuse.

In the late 1990s, companies began paying more attention to the content coming into their business networks as they battled malicious code such as worms, viruses, and spam, says a Clearswift spokeswoman. Now, the trend among big companies is to pay closer attention to the content coming out of their systems, she says. "Still, misuse is an alarming problem," she says.

The survey comes in a week that Microsoft released a separate survey concluding that workers waste nearly 17 hours -- almost two full days -- on the job each week. Employees blamed unproductive meetings for eating up the most time, but E-mail was high on the list as well.

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