A fourth of employees who use a computer at work admit to having used it to look for a new job online, a U.S study has suggested.
The poll of 2,700 workers by recruitment firm Hudson found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, younger workers were more likely than their older counterparts to surf online job sites.
Nearly a third of 18 to 29-year-olds said they had searched for a job online while at work, compared with 21 per cent of those aged 40 to 49 and 15 per cent 50-64 year olds.
But employers should not panic or overreact, warned Kris Rzepkowski, Hudson North America interactive manager.
While workers should avoid conducting a job search on the company's time, bosses should temper their reaction if they find an employee searching an online job site, he suggested.
"Employees are not naïve enough to think they'll be with one company forever, especially if they're having a bad day," he said.
"Employers should recognise that and use it as a growth opportunity," he added.
That meant talking with the employee about any job or work-life balance problems or concerns, he stressed.
Just 12 per cent of the workers polled said they surfed the internet for personal reasons most days or every day, but among 18-29 year-olds this figure rose to 20 per cent.
Thirty-somethings were just above the average at 13 per cent, with 10 per cent of 40-to-49-year-olds and 8 per cent of 50-64 year-olds confessing to personal surfing while at work.
When it came to e-mail use, almost 30 per cent of the total sample said they sent and received personal e-mails most days or every day, a percentage that held roughly the same across all age groups.
When managers were compared with non-managers, personal use was about equal, although managers were likelier to send and receive personal e-mails (33 per cent against 26 per cent of non-managers.
"Even the managers themselves are using the internet more for personal use at the office. Clearly, there's a lot of this going on," said Rzepkowski.
"When you're talking about companies really wanting to retain their employees and deal effectively with work-life balance issues, you'll find they're going to have some tolerance for this. This is one of those key issues to retaining your employees," he added.
But that doesn't mean all personal surfing and e-mailing is going to go down well with your boss, the survey cautioned.
More than a quarter of the workers said they knew someone who had been reprimanded or fired for misusing e-mail or the web.
"When the personal use is getting in the way of the employees' productivity on the job, that's where you're going to see the reprimand," Rzepkowski said.
Workers who use their work computer for personal use should clarify what their company's rules are, he advised.
"There's no excuse for not knowing the corporate policy," he said.
It is a good idea simply to ask your manager what's acceptable. Workers will "get a very good sense with direct interaction with their boss what's tolerable from a personal-use perspective," he said.
"Once there's a crossover into spending time when you're not on lunch break shopping or spending inordinate amounts of time checking your sports scores, that's when you're getting a problem."
Nearly half – 48 per cent – of the workers polled said their employer monitored e-mails and web site use, 40 per cent said their company did not monitor and 12 per cent were unsure.