The TV show "Dialing for Dollars" was canceled long ago, but the telephone game goes on in the workplace. The big losers these days are employers who must foot the bill for frivolously spent message units and long-distance family reunions.

"As much as 40% of a company's long-distance telephone expense may result from phone abuse by employees," says Harry Newton, a telecommunications consultant and president of Telecom Library Inc. in New York City.

Newton estimates that the average American office worker makes four to six personal calls in a working day. If you're doing business in an area with timed message units, even local chats can add up. One company in New York analyzed its phone records and found that the most frequently dialed number belonged not to their biggest customer, but to Off-Track Betting Corp.

What can a company do to curb the costly communications habits of its workers? The most effective solution is a computerized monitoring and routing system that allows selective shut-off of lines. But it can cost $800 to $1,000 per employee, which is an expensive investment.

The important thing is to demonstrate your concern to employees, says Newton. One method that's effective as a short-term measure is temporary restriction of service. You can ask the telephone company to modify your "dial 9" system so that all calls must be routed through the switchboard. The cost varies from city to city. In Los Angeles, an average charge for installing restricted service on a typical six-button phone system would be $21 for installation and $13 per phone.