Report: Spam costs $874 per employee per year

Yearly productivity loss equals 1.4 percent

BOSTON - Unsolicited commercial ("spam") e-mail costs U.S. companies $874 per employee per year in lost productivity, according to a new report out from independent research company Nucleus Research.

The report, entitled "Spam: The Silent ROI Killer" (referring to return on investment) was released Tuesday and contains the results of interviews with employees and IT administrators at 76 different U.S. companies.

The $874 figure is based on an hourly pay of $30 and a work year of 2,080 hours, Nucleus said.

Among the other findings of the report are the following:

- Companies lose approximately 1.4 percent of each employee's productivity each year due to spam.

- The average employee receives 13.3 spam messages each day.

- Employees spend, on average, 6.5 minutes per day managing spam.

The new report comes as companies are struggling to stem a flood of spam and digest the results of numerous spam reports.

Most recently, Network Associates released a survey of 1,500 online participants that found users spending 40 minutes a week dealing with spam. 

An executive at one vendor of antispam products said the cost may be even higher.

If anything, Nucleus's numbers sound a bit low, according to Joe Fisher, director of product management at Tumbleweed Communications, a vendor of antispam products.

"I might argue it's a bit higher, depending on the organization. I think the industry-accepted standard is approximately $20 or $25 per hour per employee," Fisher said.

Still, many of the studies done so far have focused on the volume of the spam rather than its effect on business productivity, according to Ian Campbell, CEO of Nucleus.

"We didn't see any study that dealt with productivity ... questions like, 'If I employ a spam filter, how much time do I get back?' or 'Am I blocking messages that are costing me time to deal with?'" Campbell said.

Among the 117 employees surveyed, Nucleus researchers looked for users with varying exposure to the spam problem, Campbell said.

Nucleus interviewed users with e-mail addresses that had been harvested by spammers multiple times and who were 'besieged' by spam, as well as those with addresses that had little exposure to the public Internet and so were unknown to most spammers, and "normal users" who fell in between the two extremes, he said.

A potentially controversial conclusion of the survey was that spam filtering technology does not lead to significant improvements in productivity, Campbell said.

"Filtering stops some more e-mail messages, but it only saves about 26 percent of the productivity loss, so the cost of spam with filters is not significantly less than without it," he said.

The sophistication of spammers relative to antispam technology and a lack of a consistent education of employees about the problem are partly to blame for the ineffectiveness of filtering, Nucleus said.

Although the study still recommends that companies deploy spam-filtering products, other methods may yield better results, Campbell said.

Rather than turning to the latest antispam technology, companies may get better results by turning to the courtroom and Capitol Hill for relief from the spam scourge.

Campbell said recent legal action against alleged spammers by Microsoft and others is potentially more effective than antispam technology and recommended that concerned businesses owners call their congressional representative.

"You're in a technology war with the spammers. Filtering will help, but there's nothing that helps more than a couple years in jail," he said.

Nucleus is hoping that the survey raises eyebrows in the business community, noting that for every 72 employees, companies are losing the productivity of one due to spam.

"If one of out of every 72 of your employees showed up to work and slept all day, you'd be upset about that, but you're losing that productivity simply because you have spam coming through," Campbell said.


Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.