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Internet and Email Use at Work

I will start by stating that this blog is NOT a product of anything happening at Eagle, although we have had our share of such fun in the past. I was reading an article recently suggesting that US companies are increasing the monitoring of internet and email activity among staff. The article actually focused on blogging, but also talked about email and general internet usage. Certainly the arrival of social networking site has added a new dimension to the issue. I also came across a study done some time back about the amount of time people spend on the internet at work. I'm pretty sure that number is not going down.

So ... why do companies clamp down on this stuff? In my mind the number one reason is risk and probably the second answer would be cost.

Risk happens in a number of ways.

Employers have a responsibility to their employees, clients, suppliers and anyone else they interact with to provide a safe environment. If someone gets offended by inappropriate content then the company can end up paying a heavy price. Imagine what would happen if a key client came to your offices and found someone surfing porn! Do you think that would reflect badly on the company? Some of you are saying that might be far fetched ... well a couple of years ago we had a temp receptionist caught doing just that!

Many years ago I used to swap internet jokes with a controlled list of friends. The jokes were not crude, but some may have been close to the line. It was pointed out that if my jokes were forwarded along without my knowledge then I would have no idea where they were going, nor who they might upset ... and all under my name. I stopped.

What responsibility does an employer have if one of their employees is using company resources to access child porn?

What responsibility does an employer have if one of their staff blogs about a client in an inappropriate way?

IBM was sued by an employee who was fired for inappropriate internet usage because he thought they should have helped his internet addiction, not fired him! The world has gone mad ... but this just demonstrates the kind of risks that you would be hard pressed to imagine!

The risks to a company in letting their staff have access to "unsavory" internet content can be many and varied ... I can't even begin to list them! They all however result in serious costs if the company does not handle this right.


YouTube is a great site, always a lot of interesting content ... however streaming video can eat up network resources in a hurry! Streamed music, large video mpegs, powerpoint files are all popular ways to share jokes and all cost a lot in bandwidth. I'm not sure companies should need to upgrade their network capability to cater to that kind of traffic, nor endure slowed throughput for the same reason.

The amount of time that people spend chatting with friends on instant messenger, updating facebook, visiting youtube and all of the many other activities common to today's generation can be significant. If the average employee is spending even an hour a day on personal activities ... internet based or otherwise ... then the cost to the company is more than 10% of payroll costs.

What are the hidden costs when an employee misses a piece of business because they were slow in responding to a client need?

What about the employee that is spending hours every day on this kind of stuff ... it happens!

Employee concerns.

Not many employees complain about restricting internet use to business resources, however they do get very creative about finding ways around the restrictions! However, over the years I have heard employees suggest that their email and calendar should be private, and nobody should be able to see it. I try to explain that for the above reasons the company needs to have access. I also try to point out that unless management has good reason to suspect someone then we just don't have time to read everyone's mail, we barely have time to read our own! At Eagle I have no problem with an employee sending and receiving a few personal emails, as long as their focus is on the job. I think that most employers would take a similar approach, we need to protect our companies from risk but a little personal, non-offensive usage is fine as long as it is not biting into productivity.

My advice to an employee is to be very familiar with your company policy in this area. In addition, personal activities should happen outside of work hours ... and if you need the occasional personal use of resources (email, internet etc), and the company policy allows it, remember it is your employer that is paying for that use. There is a fair bit of advice on the web about this subject, often in career sites such as this one at About Career Planning.

My advice to a company owner is to install software that will monitor internet usage, ensuring risks are minimized. In addition, it is important to have a very clear company policy that tells the employee just what the company expects. The web and all of its amazing tools can be great assets to a business, but it is prudent to have good policies and tools to ensure that they are being utilised for the good of the company and not hurting the company.