The Project Media survey, Email Usage, March 2000, classified inappropriate email as "nuisance" text or graphic material containing rude or racist jokes and pornography; and "dangerous" or "problematic" information such as slander or company secrets.
Anecdotal evidence from 566 managers and employees from small to large local businesses also showed that web surfing comprised "wasted" company time, with workers hitting share price, employment, banking, travel and entertainment sites on the job.
Furthermore, 20 per cent of managers were unaware of inappropriate emails circulating their organisation.
In contrast, 20 per cent of employees across all types of organisations suspected there were inappropriate emails in their workplace, the report said.
"Employees and employers have very differing views as to what's going on," said Narelle Behn-Carey, marketing manager, Content Technologies. "Frankly . . . that gap is the biggest concern right now if you're running a business. You're not aware of what's happening out there."
"Management hasn't understood the value of email as a corporate asset," Behn-Cary asserted.
"Business value" issues such as productivity loss, confidentiality breaches through data theft, IT infrastructure drain, a poor corporate reputation and damaged employee morale were the top management concerns identified in the study.
Chris Heslop, Content Technologies' global marketing director, suggested Australia needed to lift its game in implementing uniform corporate email usage policy.
Heslop's formula for secure email policy was based on "balancing the privacy interests of employers, employees, unions, HR departments, customers and partners".
However, Behn-Carey pointed out that policy enforcement would be "difficult" due to different degrees of stringency and cultural factors across industries. "Organisations set their policies on the organisations they want to be," she said. "Some are more lenient than others."
The defence and finance sectors had the most rigorous email policies, with more "relaxed" rules in the media, Heslop said.
Behn-Carey suggested a "compromise" factor would create the fairest email usage policy. "Companies have to understand there's privacy of the individual. They have a duty of care to protect trade secrets (but also) their employees and customers," she said.