Report: Spam costs $874 per employee per year

Employees spend an average of 6.5 minutes a day managing spam

Unsolicited commercial e-mail costs U.S. companies $874 per employee per year in lost productivity, according to a report released yesterday from independent research company Nucleus Research Inc.

The report, titled "Spam: The Silent ROI Killer," details the results of interviews with employees and IT administrators at 76 U.S. companies. The $874 figure is based on an hourly pay of $30 and a work year of 2,080 hours, Nucleus said.

Other findings of the report include the following:

  • Companies lose approximately 1.4% of the annual productivity of each employee because of 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 Inc. 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' numbers sound a bit low, according to Joe Fisher, director of product management at Tumbleweed Communications Corp., 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," he said.

Still, many of the studies conducted so far have focused on the volume of 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?' "

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 doesn't lead to significant improvements in productivity, Campbell said. "Filtering stops some more e-mail messages, but it only saves about 26% 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 consistent employee education 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 Corp. and others is potentially more effective than antispam technology. "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 because of spam. "If one 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.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon