“It’s the new personal phone call,” says Kit Murphy, chief operating officer of Chester Willcox & Saxbe in Columbus, Ohio. “Only it’s more covert.”Murphy is referring to what experts now call “cyberslacking” — employees whiling away their work hours wandering around the Web. Though the Internet has become an essential tool in many offices, it has also brought countless distractions directly to employees’ desks. While some personal use of the Internet is generally acceptable to most employers, if no one’s paying attention to the issue, the lost productivity can be costly.

Witness that last summer, America Online and Salary.com surveyed 10,044 workers, and nearly 45 percent cited personal Internet use as their number-one distraction at work. All told, the surveyors estimated that employers spend more than $750 billion each year on salaries for time that’s frittered away, rather than for actual work.