IT IS a cat-and-(computer) mouse game.

Is your colleague working in the next cubicle - or playing an online game or downloading the latest Hollywood blockbuster?

Statistics compiled by a Singapore security firm that specialises in monitoring office Internet traffic show that workers here are using company networks to indulge in non-work activities.

Niometrics chief technology officer Kostas Anagnostakis said only 30 per cent of a company's Internet traffic is linked to work activities such as downloading corporate e-mail or accessing files from the firm's database.

Another 25 per cent is traced to the streaming of music and videos from sites such as YouTube and PPLive.

The remainder - about 45 per cent - is tied to a mix of work and recreational use. An employee may do a Google search on competitors and market his company's latest products on its Facebook page.

In the course of the day, he may also play the popular Facebook game, FarmVille, or log on to other sites to trade shares and even download pornography.

Niometrics helps clients, ranging from small and medium-sized enterprises to publicly listed companies, track the Internet usage of some 80,000 employees in the region.

It maintains a list of 5,500 computer programs in its database and tracked what employees did against this list to come up with its data earlier this year.

So should a company crack the whip?

'Employers may expect their staff to commit themselves fully during office hours. But times are changing and Gen Y workers are wired in a different manner,' said Temasek Polytechnic's School of Business lecturer Dennis Toh.

'So employers may need to adjust their expectations. If it doesn't affect their employees' productivity, if they do their work within the allotted time at an acceptable standard, then companies should consider giving staff some leeway to do their own activities during office hours,' he added.

Dr Anagnostakis concurs, but for a more pragmatic reason.

Companies reaching for the usual counter-measure - banning certain websites - will find today's increasingly tech-savvy employees manoeuvring their way around it, he said.

Some workers hide their online gaming by using paid services that help them conceal their Web trails. Others just download pirated material from subscription-based websites.

IT security experts warn that many of these alternatives are built by hackers who use employees desperate for their online fix to introduce a virus or hack into the company's systems.

Dr Anagnostakis said it is probably better to use more subtle tools to monitor or deter unnecessary surfing, like reducing the amount of bandwidth available for such services, rather than banning them.

Recruitment firm Robert Walter's senior consultant Adrian Loh said companies may wish to block some of the more objectionable sites. That said, 'there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution; this is really dependent on factors such as the size and nature of the business and organisation'.

The advice of HR experts is for companies to be upfront with staff on what is permitted on the office networks and the risks their behaviour could pose to the company - and their own pay cheques.

At Toyota dealer Borneo Motors, IT manager Gilbert Chow said the company can track what staff do online and block undesirable sites.

'But we've not done so. Our staff are adults and productivity has not been affected by visits to such sites,' he added.

And there is no guarantee that banning certain sites is the answer, if the example of Ms J. Tham, 24, is anything to go by. She recently started work at a small local import-export firm.

'I was shocked to find out on my first day that it had banned Facebook and instant messaging programs,' said the purchasing executive, who did not want her full name used.

'Now I just go to the toilet to use my phone to check Facebook and play the CityVille game. So banning Facebook is useless - in fact, it made me less productive since I'm spending so much time in the toilet.'