Social networks and email cost UK £58bn a year

Online collaboration tools cost UK businesses an estimated £57.8 billion pounds a year in lost productivity, as workers bunk off on chat and social networking sites such as Facebook, claims a survey released today. But who's paying?

The research, conducted by market research outfit uSamp, asked about the working habits of employees working in the sales, marketing, human resources and legal departments of more than 500 companies of various sizes around the world.

Nearly 60 per cent of interruptions were reported to involve switching between email, social notworking, text messaging and instant messaging tools. Fifty-three per cent of those questioned said they wasted at least an hour a day on distractions, with 45 per cent saying they never managed more than 15 minutes without being interrupted.

Yaacov Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Harmon.ie, the company that commissioned uSamp's research, suggests the survey provides evidence of "online compulsive disorder", and says: "For all of us, it's time to take back the Internet and find ways to control our digital addiction."

But to be honest, we're a bit iffy about uSamp's estimates of the cash wasted by UK businesses - and the very meaning of those figures in the first place. The research assumes an average salary of £14.25/hour - nearly two and a half times the current UK National Minimum Wage of £5.93 - to calculate its annual figure of £3,277.50 in wasted productivity per employee. That's a lorra, lorra lolcats.

And before we're made to feel bad about the odd couple of minutes spent sending a private email, we'd point you in the direction of recent research from the UK's Trades Union Congress, which revealed that more than 5.26 million employees across the UK worked for free last year. Between them, they clocked up an average of seven hours, 12 minutes in unpaid overtime each week - worth, the TUC claims, a whopping £5,485 annually per person.

So before anyone rushes to begrudge work-shy internet-holics the odd tweet, ask yourself: who's ripping off who? And have another five minutes on Farmville.