Instant messaging is gaining popularity with workers trying to get around the restrictions placed on what they can do with e-mail.
Instant messaging can be a real drain on producitivity
A survey by filtering firm Surf Control Survey shows that workers are turning to instant messaging to do the things that company policies stop them doing with e-mail.
Currently few firms subject instant messaging programs to the same scrutiny that e-mail receives to stop spam, viruses or abuse by employees.
Surf Control warns that firms must do more to limit the security problems that instant messaging programs create and educate staff about responsible use.
The survey found that almost 40% of staff in UK companies are using instant messaging programs while in the office.
"As more companies crack down on misuse of e-mail we have seen people moving more and more towards freer communications such as instant messaging," said Martino Corbelli, spokesman for Surf Control.
Worryingly, he said, many staff were using these programs for non-work purposes.
Many people, 42%, use instant messaging because, as its name implies, it is a much faster way of communicating with co-workers than e-mail.
But the survey also found that 31% of those questioned turn to instant messaging to send the private messages they would rather did not travel via company e-mail systems.
The temptation to abuse instant messaging by wasting time chatting to friends was well known, 68%, even by those that did not use the technology.
More than half of the workers questioned, 51%, said instant messaging could dent productivity as people dealt with messages that kept popping up.
Others were worried about viruses arriving via instant message programs (34%) and by offensive content being circulated (6%).
Mr Corbelli said companies had to do more to tackle the potential problems that greater use of instant messaging brought.
He said the risks and dangers that emerged with early use of e-mail were happening all over again as use of instant messaging grew.
Security strategies to stop viruses could be thwarted by unauthorised use of instant messaging, he said.
Policies and training programs created to improve e-mail security and to educate staff about responsible use of net technology needed to be updated to take account of instant messaging, he said.
"Having a policy is only half the job," he said, "Everyone must sign up to it and be reminded of it when they go online."