RealTime IT News

Study: Workers Find IM a Mixed Blessing

A report released Thursday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project says U.S. workers are increasingly using instant messaging (IM) in the workplace, with approximately 11 million Americans logging into an IM program daily.

The study says 53 million Americans (43 percent of all U.S. Internet users) report using IM with the application having an "especially apparent" appeal among young adults and technology enthusiasts.

Using data from comScore Media Metrix, the Pew report says the 11 million at-work IM users represent 21 percent of all instant messaging users. The preferred office application is Yahoo Messenger, which is used by 33 percent of those who trade messages at work. America Online's AIM is a strong second among office workers and the overall leader among all IM users.

Pew says almost 70 percent of office IM users find the application a mixed, but mostly positive, influence. While 11 percent of workers say they couldn't live without it, 14 percent find IM a mostly negative influence or wish it would go away entirely.

"Most [employees] find it a positive thing, but there are some who find it a stress inducer and a time waster," Amanda Lenhart, the report's co-author, said. "There is an element of monitoring here. You can be seen or noted [when you log on] as part of a group."

Although Pew has not previously measured IM in the workplace, Lenhart noted that overall adult IM use has grown slowly over the last few years. "A lot of companies weren't entirely sure this [IM] would be a good thing," she said.

In addition to employee monitoring concerns, Lenhart said employers and employees have reservations about the actual productivity of IM applications, which allow users to communicate in real-time, text-based programs.

The report says 40 percent of at-work IM users generally use instant messaging to contact co-workers. Another 33 percent said they use IM at work to contact family and friends and 21 percent stated they IM both co-workers and friends while at the office.

The numbers were almost evenly split among employees when asked if IM increases teamwork. Forty percent said yes and 41 percent said no. Another 15 percent think IM contributes minimally to teamwork.

Nearly a third of workers think IM encourages office gossip. By contrast, 49 percent feel IM does not contribute to office gossip and 15 percent it contributes "only a little" to gossip.

As a time saver, the report states 50 percent of office IM users find the application saves "some" to "a lot" of time. A little more than a quarter of the workers (26 percent) said IM has no impact on saving time.

"There is no doubt that IM use will intensify," Lenhart said. "Younger Americans, in particular, have incorporated IM into their lives in multiple ways, using it to keep track of their friends, coordinate work meetings and share files. IM use at home and in the workplace will grow as these creative and time-saving uses of the technology percolate through the generations."