SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - More Australian companies are blocking access to social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, trying to make employees more productive in a sagging economy, the country's dominant phone company says.
Figures released by Telstra Corp and Internet security specialists MessageLabs show a four-fold spike in the number of times employers have blocked access to social networking sites between June 2008 and April 2009.
Some 6,000 attempts to access social networking sites are blocked each day, compared with 2,000 a day 10 months ago.
"If an employee spends as much as an hour a day on Facebook, it can end up costing a business thousands of dollars in lost time over the course of a year," Telstra Business Executive Director Brian Harcourt said.
"Tweeting, friending or poking your way through the working day may not be the best way to improve the productivity of those many small businesses which are battling to find a way through the challenging economy," he said in a statement.
According to a review of web-usage trends of Australian small and medium enterprises, the total number of URLs "blocked" by organizations has jumped by 193 percent since January, the majority of which are social networking sites.
Bigger companies, including Telstra, have introduced guidelines to staff on acceptable web usage, the statement said.
"There is a clear need for formal policies on the use of social networking sites in the workplace and the appropriate software tools that support those policies," Harcourt said.
On top of distracting workers, excessive online social networking in a smaller office can also drain expensive bandwidth and cut into IT costs, says Kerrie-Ann Turner of MessageLab's parent company Symantec.
"Individual employers have different views on social networking but the overwhelming trend seems to favor blocking access to these sites, particularly in light of the economic environment," Turner said.
Social networking sites are booming, with the latest figures by Nielsen Online showing the number of minutes spent on them in the United States almost doubling over the past year.
But a recent study by the University of Melbourne showed that people who use the Internet for personal reasons at work are about 9 percent more productive than those who do not.
Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Valerie Lee