July 22, 2005--The average U.S. employee spends a surprising 2.09 hours each day wasting time at work, not including lunch hour, according to the results of a recent online survey conducted by America Online and Salary.com.

That's twice the time employers estimate and already account for in salaries, costing companies $759 billion a year in wasted salary dollars, AOL said.

Non-work related Internet usage (44.7%) and socializing with co-workers (23.4%) are the top two ways respondents said they wasted time. Considering the cost of wasted time, it would seem cracking down on this behavior would be in order, but doing so could do more harm than good.

Business owners shouldn't monitor the Internet habits of hard-working, extremely productive employees who go beyond the call of duty, said Susan Kormis, a human resources consultant in Brookline, Mass. Instead, they should focus on the "clock-watchers" -- hourly-paid employees who spend 10 hours a week on non-related work activities.

"There are a number of employees who will work 50 or 60 hours a week. Are you really going to argue with them about wasting an hour or so on the Internet?" she said. Salary.com's Senior Vice President Bill Coleman added that informal co-worker socializing can be considered "creative waste" -- time that often produces new business ideas.

Other time-wasting activities included conducting personal business (6.8%), "spacing out" (3.9%), and running off-premise errands (3.1%). To reduce some of these, Kormis suggests offering as many amenities as possible to employees, such as weekly dry-cleaning pickup, childcare, and a cafeteria. On the surface, these services are costly, but they decrease the amount of trips workers take away from the office each day, she said.

AOL and Salary.com surveyed 10,044 employees through AOL's Find a Job site and Salary.com's Salary Wizard for this study.