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TECHNOLOGY

What your staff is doing on the Internet and why you may want to allow it

It’s a temptation too great for many people to resist—using the Internet to check their Facebook page, watch those cat videos or check on the Fantasy League while at work.

And according to a survey from FindLaw.com, a provider of business development solutions for law firms, about half of staff members are surfing the Internet when they should be working.

What are they using it for?

According to the FindLaw survey, email and social media are among the biggest culprits.

Here are the top personal uses of the Internet while at work:

Personal email 34%
News 27%
Facebook 26%
Online shopping 23%
YouTube or other videos 19%
Sports 13%
Other social media 10%
Online dating 3%
Other 14%

Plus the seasonal temptation

In another survey, conducted by CareerBuilder, a global leader in human capital solutions, employees are hunting for deals and checking out their shopping carts from their cubicles. CareerBuilder finds that half of workers (50 percent) surveyed say they’ll be spending at least some work time holiday shopping, up 3 percent from last year. Of this group, 42 percent will spend an hour or more doing so.

What are they using?

As mobile technology continues to have a growing presence in the workplace, more workers are using their gadgets to shop. Forty-two (42) percent of employees use their personal smart phones or tablets to shop, a significant increase from last year (27 percent).

Why at work?

Boredom or avoiding work is the number one excuse that people cite in the FindLaw.com survey, while others blame a poor Internet connection at home.

Bored/avoiding work 28%
Didn’t want to wait until after work 21%
Better Internet connection at work 13%
Not enough time at home 8%
No Internet at home 3%
Wanted to hide activity from family 3%

How this affects your workplace

Although personal use of the Internet seems par for the course in most workplaces, not all employees go about it with a clear conscience or with the approval of their coworkers.

Robert Half Technology, a leading IT staffing firm, also surveyed employees on this subject and learned that 19 percent feel guilty about bargain-hunting during work hours, and 27 percent believe their coworkers are not pulling their weight when they shop on company time.

The Robert Half survey finds that managers may be slightly more lenient in their views.

Among 12 percent of workers who admitted to being caught by the boss while shopping online, only 6 percent were reprimanded for their deal-seeking ways. That compares to 27 percent who ended up “talking shop” with their managers in a positive interaction. Only 15 percent of workers say they feel less productive because they tend to get distracted shopping online.

How employers are responding

Tanya Roth, an attorney and editor with FindLaw.com, points out that while employees are entitled to some privacy at work, the workspace and the computer belong to the employer, meaning that the employer is generally entitled to monitor staff’s use of the employer’s computers.

“In addition, any activity that is judged to be interfering with or distracting an employee from their duties may not be looked upon favorably. So employees should be mindful of any company rules on use of computers and the Internet,” she says.

In the Robert Half survey, nearly one-quarter (22 percent) of chief information officers (CIOs) say their firms allow unrestricted access to shopping sites. Another 54 percent say their companies allow access but monitor activity for excessive use. Only 24 percent of CIOs say their firms block access to online shopping sites—down 33 percent from 2012.

The survey of CIOs asked: “Which one of the following best describes your company’s policy regarding employees shopping online while at work?” Their responses*:

2012 2013 2014 2015
Allow unrestricted access 12% 12% 17% 22%
Allow access but monitor for excessive use 30% 55% 30% 54%
Block access to online shopping sites 57% 32% 51% 24%
Don’t Know 2% 1% 3% 0%
101%* 100% 101%* 100%

(*Responses do not total 100 percent due to rounding.)

Meanwhile, CareerBuilder finds that employers are not turning a blind eye to the practice this holiday season. Twelve (12) percent of employers say they’ve fired someone for holiday shopping on the Internet while at work (compared to 8 percent last year), and 56 percent say their organization blocks employees from accessing certain websites from work—up 3 percent from last year.

More than one third of employers (35 percent) say that even if performance isn’t affected, they care if employees spend time on non-work related emails and websites. With the ever-looming distractions offered by technology, many have taken stronger measures to prevent loss of productivity this year, including:

  • 36 percent of employers say their organization monitors the sites employees visit, a 4 percent increase since last year.
  • 55 percent of employers restrict employees from posting on behalf of the company on social media, and 32 percent have adopted stricter policies in this regard over the past year (compared to 50 and 25 percent last year, respectively).
  • 28 percent say they’ve fired someone for using the Internet for non-work related activity, and 18 percent have fired an employee for something they posted on social media (compared to 24 and 12 percent last year, respectively).

But maybe you should allow it

“Allowing employees access to online shopping is an easy way to gain their appreciation (especially during the holiday season), while demonstrating trust in their time-management abilities,” says Deborah Bottineau, senior regional manager of Robert Half Technology. “That said, professionals should be careful to not abuse these digital freedoms by being wary of site security while browsing, and acting responsibly to minimize distractions during work hours.”

CareerBuilder agrees. “In a world where the lines between the professional and personal are becoming more and more blurred every day, it’s not surprising that more employees are bringing personal activities to the workplace,” says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. “Employees should follow the rules, but employers should be careful not to micromanage. The issue should be more about performance than about what employees are doing with their time.”


Editor’s picks:

Your personal social media posts: are they really personal?


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


Dealing with the cell phone abusers, the smokers, and the too-jolly staffer


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