In a world of constant connectivity it can be difficult to manage the work environment where employees have a computer in front of them with easy access to the Internet. Even without a company-supplied computer, how many people do you know who don't have a smart phone or other device to keep them connected to friends, family, personal interests, news, games, social media sites and so on?
Where does an employee's personal life stop and work life begin? Well, you would like to think an employee's personal life stops as soon as they begin work; however the reality is, personal "stuff" will always creep into an employee's work life. As an employer, it is in your best interests to consider how to put parameters around the need and desire for constant connectivity.
Recently I was listening to Richard Cloutier Reports on CJOB and the topic was how much time employees were spending on the Internet watching the London Olympics. One caller noted that his friend reportedly spent six hours of his eight-hour workday streaming video from the Olympics. An acquaintance of mine tweeted that she was thankful she had a second computer monitor at work so she could watch the Olympics all day while she worked. I am certain these are not "one-off" scenarios and I'm sure many readers have their own tales of colleagues spending time on the Internet when they are supposed to be working -- or maybe you're one of those people watching the Olympics at work?
Bottom line is that if you're spending time at work on personal tasks -- whether on the Internet, telephone or gazing at the wall thinking about what your plans are for the evening -- you are in essence "cheating" your employer. If every employee spent 15 minutes a day on personal tasks while at work, think about the total amount of lost time in any given company -- for example, 100 employees x 15 minutes 25 hours a day. In other words, that is about three employees not showing up for work every day.
So as an employer, what can you do to curb the amount of time lost to "social not-working"? For starters, having an Acceptable Use of Technology Policy in place is of utmost importance for reasons even beyond what is being discussed in this article. It is also wise to have a policy specifically related to social media. Here are a few points to get you started:
-- List what is acceptable use, such as: investigating, gathering, and distributing any information related to the accomplishment of the individual's assigned responsibilities; or, collaborating and communicating with other employees and customers of the company, according to the individual's assigned job duties and responsibilities.
-- List what is unacceptable use, such as: Internet usage for illegal purposes, such as theft, fraud, slander, harassment, stalking, online gambling, and spreading viruses; or, any usage that conflicts with existing company policies (e.g. bandwidth limitations) and/or any usage that conflicts with the company's mission, goals, and reputation.
-- Describe what personal use, if any, is available to employees, such as, "This policy does allow room for limited and reasonable personal use of the Internet by authorized users. Personal use should not interfere with company business and not compromise the integrity and efficiency of company systems, professionalism or reputation."
-- Include a statement regarding privacy, such as: "While our network administration team wants to provide a reasonable level of privacy, users should be aware that the data they create on company systems remains the property of our company. The company has the right to monitor computer-related activities and may do so. No user should have any expectation of privacy as to their computer-related usage.
-- Cover email communications by listing acceptable practices such when to send mass emails, how to protect confidential information and what size documents can be attached.
-- Specifically indicate if accessing social media sites is allowed, when they can be accessed and for how long.
-- These policies should end with a phrase such as: "The abuse of personal Internet use on social media sites using either company owned and operated equipment or personal Internet access devices during normal working hours will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment."
Once you have drafted the policy, be sure to communicate it to existing and new employees. An open and frank discussion is recommended rather than just a bulletin board posting. A good place to start is reminding employees they do not have a right to use their employer's Internet connection any way they please. Of course, you don't want to create resentment by being overly strict, but you do have a right and a duty to protect your organization, and to manage and monitor your workers' whereabouts on the Internet.
There's more at stake in managing your employees' online habits at work than just maintaining productivity and discipline. Unauthorized Internet usage can bring other unwanted consequences, such as degraded network performance and security risks.
Once policies are in effect and employees have been educated on the topic, any abuse of Internet privileges can be dealt with reasonably through documented progressive discipline procedures. While the company should keep control, things need to be kept in perspective. You don't want to overreact to every little transgression. Disciplining an employee for checking the weather or the score in last night's football game is probably counterproductive. Employee engagement, productivity and retention are all served by maintaining a culture of respect. Creating an atmosphere of total lockdown, or giving the impression that you're spying can destroy trust. This can easily spiral out of control in a cycle of mutual ill will, which nobody wants.
Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a Practice Leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org