Yesterday, in the office, I watched Sarah Silverman skewer Britany Spears at the MTV Music Awards on YouTube.  I also accepted my son’s invitation to be his friend on Facebook.  All together this took less than 10 minutes, but I still felt guilty about it and knew I was setting a bad example.  Because if everyone starts (continues) doing this (especially with less guilt) then it’s easy to see how it spirals out of control.  It’s like a 5 people meeting for an hour – it’s not a one-hour meeting, it’s a five hour meeting.  Which makes me agree with the recent BBC article Facebook "costs businesses dear." 

Workers who spend time on sites such as Facebook could be costing firms over £130m a day, a study has calculated.

According to employment law firm Peninsula, 233 million hours are lost every month as a result of employees "wasting time" on social networking.

The study – based on a survey of 3,500 UK companies – concluded that businesses need to take firm action on the use of social networks at work.

I don’t count on Peninsula having the numbers right, but clearly this is a problem.  To me, YouTube and Facebook are different than occasionally checking your stock portfolio or looking for someone on LinkedIn.  Stock portfolios and LinkedIn are boring; you can only look at them for so long.  But Facebook and YouTube are both addictive and contagious, especially in an open floorplan office. 

The UK’s Trade Union Congress disagrees:

Employees should have access to social networking websites such as Facebook during office hours, the TUC has said.

Some firms have blocked workers’ access to the sites, or disciplined staff for misuse of the internet.

However, the union organisation says it is unreasonable to try to stop staff from having a life outside work and suggests setting guidelines instead.

I’m not sure a set of guidelines will do the trick, but I do know that it’s pretty easy to tell when time is being wasted and an employer is being taken advantage of.  If you haven’t seen the Sarah Silverman clip, please wait until after the workday is over.  It’s rated R.