By Claire West

Up to 72% of British workers spend their lunch hour online: shopping, banking, catching up with the latest sport or chatting to their friends on email or Facebook, according to a new survey.

The report, commissioned by computing and communications services company Star, polled 1,000 workers after noticing that the network bandwidth usage for business Internet traffic in their data centres was consistently peaking between 12:00 — 14:00 hrs when British workers should be enjoying their lunch breaks.

The change pointed to the growing influence that video and non-work related Internet use can have on the corporate network.

The statistics from the research reveal that the most popular lunchtime habits for 63% of people are checking their personal email accounts, engaging in online shopping and banking (62%), and 31% catch up with friends on social networking sites like Facebook — unsurprisingly this trend was higher ( 40%) for younger workers between the ages of 16 to 34 years.

One in three of British workers spend their lunch time watching online sports or checking out the latest sports results. Interestingly, more men (16%) admitted to watching catch-up TV, compared to only 7% of women. On the other hand, 37% of women spend their time on social networking sites, compared to 25% of men.

John Adey, Chief Operating Officer of Star, said: “We believe that the high Internet traffic volumes during the 12:00 — 14:00hrs time frame indicates that employers are taking a liberal approach to allowing employees access to the Internet during the lunch hour for non work related activities".

"However, the use of high bandwidth intensive applications like live sports and catch-up TV could mean that businesses may have to increase their bandwidth capacity to support their employees’ lunchtime surfing habits.”

Mr. Adey argues that accessing non work-related sites can leave a business open to a greater risk of employees downloading malware onto the corporate network.

He said: "Whilst there are many benefits to having a liberal policy to Internet use it seems the potential risks and costs are being ignored. Star would always suggest that UK businesses continue to benefit from giving people access to the content they want during non-working hours but do so in a safe way".

"The ideal way to do this is via dedicated computers that are not connected to the corporate network which mitigates the risk of anyone introducing any threats or leaking sensitive company data.”