Not only does American football consume much of the country’s weekend this time of year, but a new survey has found that the sporting obsession continues into the workplace.

Close to half of about 260 online poll respondents admitted they use IM programs to discuss Fantasy Football at work. The survey, conducted by policy and risk management vendor Akonix Systems and released Monday, showed that 47 percent of respondents used IM to discuss Fantasy Football specifically.

"Corporate IM has become the virtual water cooler for fantasy sports," said Don Montgomery, vice president of marketing at Akonix, in a statement. "Not only can IM affect worker productivity, but employees can also transmit confidential information without getting caught."

Fantasy Football distractions on the job could cost American businesses as much as $7.4 billion in lost company time this season, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The firm earlier this year revealed its findings, which are based on the premise that the 13.6 million Fantasy Football enthusiasts (an estimate from the Sports Trade Association) each spend an average of 10 minutes of company time per day managing their fantasy teams and players during the National Football League regular season that runs from September through December.

Industry watchers warn that although IM can be a valuable productivity tool, it also can become a productivity-buster and a security threat if proper use, security and governance measures are not put in place. And with such research firms estimating the enterprise IM market will grow from an installed base of 67 million in 2007 to 127 million in 2011, analysts say IT managers need to start designing their IM adoption, use and governance strategies.

"Business users accessing public IM systems posed a threat with regard to security, privacy, governance and compliance," says Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester Research principal analyst who covers social computing and Web 2.0 technologies, such as IM.

In a recent Forrester report, Koplowitz says enterprise IT shops must "work with security professionals; IT operations professionals; governance, compliance and risk professionals; and records managers to lock down a strategy that will allow users to reap the benefits without incurring the risk associated with the use of public IM services."