September 1, 2004

How Americans Use Instant Messaging

Part 4. IM at work: Instant messaging has become a familiar reality in some offices

21% of instant message users use IM at their job.

In recent years, the use of IM programs has gained popularity in the workplace.  Twenty-one percent of IM users, or approximately 11 million American adults, say they instant message at work.  This is the first time Pew Internet has probed more deeply into people’s behavior and attitudes toward IM at work.4 Individuals who report instant messaging at work also say their IM use adds to productivity.

Among all IM users, men use IM at work in significantly larger numbers than women.  Twenty-six percent of instant messaging men use IM at work, while only 15% of their female counterparts engage in similar activity.  This reading reflects a higher percentage of men than women in our sample that are employed full-time.

Survey results indicate at-work IM users are better educated and live in households with higher levels of income: 32% of the Internet users who have a college degree or higher use IM at work. 

Individuals who use the internet more frequently and have more experience with the Web are more likely to IM at work. Twenty-eight percent of survey respondents who have 6 or more years of internet experience use IM at work, followed by 16% who have accessed the internet within the last 4 to 5 years. By contrast, 7% of those who have been online for 2-3 years instant message in the office, and 12% of those with a year or less of internet experience use IM at their desks.  A quarter of all American adults who use the internet daily report using IM at work. Those with broadband connections are also more likely to use IM at work.

The “buddies” of work-based IM users.

Instant messengers use IM at work to communicate with both coworkers and personal family and friends. 

  • 40% indicated they generally instant message coworkers.
  • 33% reported instant messaging with friends and family.
  • 21% responded that they IM with both groups equally.

For at-work IM-ers who use email more frequently than IM, it appears that instant messaging is reserved for work purposes. Among IM-ers who use email more frequently than IM, 49% use IM at work to keep in touch with coworkers.  In contrast, of IM-ers who instant message more frequently than email, only 20% use IM at work to converse with coworkers. 

IM improves quality of workday, without detracting from workflow.

At-work IM users report that instant messaging improves their productivity.  Forty percent of these individuals feel IM has improved teamwork.  Of the remaining users, 15% think IM has contributed minimally to teamwork, while 41% feel it hasn’t at all.  Among those reporting a lot of improvement, over half (53%) spend more than an hour on IM. 

Half of at-work instant messengers (50%) believe IM saves “some” to “a lot” of time.  Meanwhile, only about a quarter (26%) claim IM has made no impact on saving time. IM users are not distracted by the application.  A few (9%) find IM distracting and even fewer (5%) feel additional stress because of IM. 

At the same time, some IM users concede it can be a distraction. Thirty-two percent believe IM encourages gossip. In contrast 49% believe IM does not encourage gossip at all and 15% IM sessions contribute to gossip only a little.  Nearly half (47%) of instant messengers report that IM has provided some or even a lot of moments of relief during the workday.  Fewer people (26%) find only a little relief, and 23% indicate experiencing none at all. 

Generally people who use IM at work feel positively about it.  Sixty-eight percent think that although it may be a mixed blessing, instant messaging is positive, and 11% insist they couldn’t live without it.  The number of people with positive attitudes toward IM remains relatively high across gender, race, age, education, and income. 

  1. The figures in this section are based on individuals who use IM at work. Margin of error is plus or minus 10 points, based on sample size, n = 111.