Internet abuse in the workplace – what’s your policy?

Research reveals that a typical employee spends around 10 percent of their paid time on non-work related online activities, and in some cases this rises to a deeply worrying 40 percent. Surfing the net on company time is nothing new, of course; people have been doing it since the birth of the internet. But with so many more distractions to choose from, the temptation to transgress just gets greater. And there’s much to do: shopping, news, checking the bank balance, paying the bills, answering emails…and this is even before we account for social media – it is estimated that some two percent of all paid time in the workplace is spent on Facebook alone!

Six out of 10 people confess to going online to conduct personal activities during company time. And these are just the ones who admit it. And few of us would be surprised to learn that two thirds of all online pornography is viewed between the hours of 9am and 5pm – while the government’s own figures reveal that even our MPs aren’t beyond a little suspicious browsing: according to official statistics, in 2012 there were 114,844 attempts to access pornographic websites via the parliamentary network!

What does this mean for the employer?

Even the most diligent among us will spend a few minutes online each day doing personal stuff – whether it’s checking on the kids, cancelling a dentist appointment or having a quick glance at the football results – but most of us would never take undue advantage of the privilege. Banning or blocking such activities outright would be counterproductive, as it penalises the many for the abuses of the few, and is only likely to fuel resentment.

Introduce a responsible internet use policy

Instead of restricting personal internet use outright, consider creating a reasonable use policy. Draw up a code of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ (these can differ considerably between organisations) and attach these to a consent form, which employees are then invited to sign. Ensure that the policy is fair and balanced, and emphasises trust and personal responsibility.

However, any such policy is worthless if it isn’t enforced. This means installing time tracking software to monitor employee internet use. There are various options available on the market, and it need not be expensive or overly intrusive. The software records the addresses of websites visited by an employee and how much time is time spent on each site. It is also possible to record which programmes and documents have been opened on a computer, by whom and for how long. The programme can also be tailored to the unique needs of your organisation. For example, certain websites can be blocked altogether; or personal internet use during breaks can be factored out automatically. Finally, be aware that any monitoring activity should not infringe an individual’s right to privacy.