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Try this “win-win” solution to stop personal internet use by staff

Manager Beth C. Pharr of North East Orthopaedics in Tupelo, MS, relies on a basic management practice when she presents any new policy. “I make it a win-win situation,” she says. “I tell staff ‘this why it’s necessary, and this is how it benefits you.'”

Such was the case when Pharr set a policy to solve a problem common to almost every office – personal internet use.

To introduce it in a win-win light, she explained it from the office’s standpoint: that it was necessary to protect against HIPAA and EEOC violations as well as to prevent losses in productivity – and revenue.

Then she explained it from staff’s standpoint: that it was necessary to protect their own personal data. What staff hadn’t realized, she says, was that because the office uses an internet-based server, any financial information they submit is kept offsite, and an employee at the server company “could capture bank account information and absolutely ruin someone.”

She also pointed out that an employer has both the right and duty to monitor what’s sent via its system to protect against legal violations. Her advice: “If you don’t want your mother to read your message on the front page of the local paper, don’t send it.”

To open the discussion, she asked different staffers how much time they spent on the internet each week.

Estimates were low. But her own monitor, which tracks each person’s use, showed otherwise. She told staff “something is not right here, because my monitor says you spent X amount of time.”

The time loss wasn’t intentional, she says. People don’t realize how much time they lose to internet use – or how expensive it is.

She estimates her office loses $18.50 for every 15 minutes somebody spends on the internet. With 11 staffers, that comes to $203.50 a day – $1,017.50 a month – $12,210 a year. And 15 minutes is minimal, she says. Actual loss is closer to $500 a day.

Added to that is lost productivity. Her office was paying overtime for hours spent on personal internet use.

Under the new policy, staff cannot use the office’s computer or internet connections for nonbusiness reasons, whether during working hours or not and whether onsite or off.

That includes personal use, social media, commercial advertising, solicitation, and promotion. Also, no one can violate software licensing or install software without written permission. The ban on solicitation, she explains, prevents looking for, say, transcription work during office time. The ban on promotion prevents going to a dating site, because that is personal promotion.

Staff sign the policy, including a statement that failure to honor it can result in discipline “as well as legal action for damages” the office might suffer as a result.

To support the policy, Pharr has blocked most general access, including social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

The only things staff are able to search are items directly related to business such as sites for payers, professional organizations, specialty societies, and government agencies.

There is, however, a little leeway – access to a few general interest sites such as the weather.

Anybody who needs access to another site has to ask Pharr to unblock it. And her response is always “tell me why you need it.” Access is then given on a case-by-case situation.

For personal use such as bill paying, Pharr has set up a “community terminal” in a private cubicle that staff can use during their off time. But there too, the rule is that they cannot go to social media sites. And they are aware that they use it at their own risk, she says, “because there is no privacy when the information goes through somebody else’s network.”

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