The misuse of the Internet in the workplace is a broad topic, but it always has to do with any web activity that creates problems for a company. It can be about accessing sites that go against the organizational policy or viewing content that may raise ethical questions. In some cases, the involved website can be harmless, but an employee may visit it so often that it affects their productivity.
In this age, where the web has become essential for so many companies, internet abuse in the workplace can have various negative effects. It can adversely impact employee morale, corporate security, and overall productivity. So, it’s important to discuss internet use policies and how HR can address issues related to network usage.
Employee Internet Usage Statistics
Indeed, access to the web has helped streamline work processes, especially for those who manage remote teams. However, while it brings benefits, it can also be a source of distraction. Sports, gaming, and entertainment are just some of the many temptations that can be hard to resist at work. The trends of personal internet usage at work are quite alarming:
- A Salary.com survey reveals that 64% of employees visit non-work-related websites during office hours.
- Nielsen research reveals that 29% of employed adults access pornographic material on work computers.
- Charles Schwab, a multinational financial services company, said that 92% of people planning to trade mutual funds would do so online during work hours.
- A Pew Research Center survey reveals that 31% of holiday shoppers buy gifts using the Internet from work.
Unfortunately, these figures might not improve over time. According to Statista, only 7% of households in the U.S. have around 25 MBPS of download speed. Now, when it comes to streaming media, people will need a high-speed connection like a T-1 or T-3 line, which can usually be accessed in corporate environments.
Of course, it can become a problem for HR practitioners if employees spend office hours viewing or downloading media content. Just by looking at the figures, you will find the answer to the following question: “Why do companies implement email and internet usage policies?”
What Are the Consequences of Excessive Personal Internet Use at Work?
Most of the time, when employees misuse the Internet at work, they do not realize the consequences associated with it. Here are some of the possible outcomes:
When workers are distracted with personal web surfing, they tend to neglect their official duties. While the Internet is essential in carrying out their work, it can also be one of their biggest time wasters. At the end of the day, they will find themselves struggling to complete the tasks assigned to them. Being constantly preoccupied with non-work-related stuff on the web can eventually affect their performance levels.
Lower Business Profitability
When employees are giving half-baked results, the company cannot reach its goal. Moreover, it means that the business is not performing at its best. Consequently, the overall profits will be affected, and the company may begin to fall behind. This can also happen because the workflow is inconsistent or inefficient.
When a handful of employees are not contributing adequately, others who are dependent on their output will trail behind. You must look at the workplace as a line of production. If one department is problematic, it can affect the entire system.
When access to the web is abused in the workplace, it can affect the overall corporate environment. Some people will not be able to submit their tasks on time, and others will have to pick up the slack. Of course, those who are taking up extra work will notice that they are doing other people’s tasks. As a result, this can affect the dynamics in the workplace and lower employee morale.
Internet Management Considerations for HR
Naturally, HR professionals play a critical role in establishing and implementing an internet policy at work. They will be proactive in creating guidelines for accessing the web within the organization. Once a proper internet usage policy has been established, the next step would be to come up with a foolproof plan for implementing it.
HR professionals are in the right position and have enough authority to provide flexible solutions for accessing the Internet. However, while trying to prevent productivity problems, they must also avoid creating a hostile workplace environment.
It’s worth noting that internet access for employees is not always a black and white scenario. It’s easy to make appropriate decisions when employees are accessing gambling or pornographic websites. However, when the company requires them to work longer hours, they end up running personal errands at the office. For instance, they may accomplish online banking and e-shopping transactions through the office internet.
While effective discipline in the workplace is important, don’t forget to be human too. As work schedules and deadlines become more demanding, employees will appreciate the opportunity to take a small break for non-work-related Internet use.
Here are some measures you can take to prevent employees from abusing their internet privileges:
Have a Foolproof Internet and Email Policy
You should clearly lay out the company’s expectations on personal time online during office hours. Without making the employees feel like criminals, you must list the sites and online activities that are prohibited within the workplace network. The policy should indicate the importance of accountability, trust, faith, and professional confidence.
Discuss the Policy with the Employees
People shouldn’t be confused with the guidelines. So, make sure you set up a seminar to discuss the internet and email policy with your employees. Provide scenarios and examples that will help them understand what the company expects from them. If progressive disciplinary actions are in place for those who repeatedly violate the policy, ensure that they are completely aware.
Create a Culture of Trust
An effective approach to managing employee internet usage is having an environment where people can monitor their online time at work. However, keep in mind that this might not work for everyone. Hard-working employees may feel burdened with excessive policies.
Using Internet Filters for Managing Web Access
The most common way to manage internet access is by blocking prohibited sites. However, these days, more and more companies use Enterprise Information Management (EIM) software solutions. This technology uses the combined power of content management and business analytics to optimize, store, and process data within an organization.
Installing such a solution in the workplace can create a balance between personal and professional employee internet use. Your IT department can set it up according to the company’s web access policy.
The goal of using EIM is to avoid web access abuse while preventing employee backlash. It uses traditional internet filtering, but it comes with adaptive management capabilities. Most solutions for restricting web access are designed for library, home, or school use. Meanwhile, EIM software strictly focuses on the unique needs of government agencies and corporate enterprises.
You can customize an EIM solution to support your company’s internet access policy. This way, HR can transparently monitor, control, and report on employee web traffic.
Here are some ways you can personalize an EIM product:
- Limit time – HR can allow employees non-work-related sites for a limited amount of time. For instance, they can set personal web surfing time to 30 minutes a day. They can use free employee time tracking software to ensure that employees don’t exceed the limits.
- Defer or continue – You can let employees choose to ‘defer’ personal web access until non-work hours. On the other hand, you can also let them choose to ‘continue’ browsing blocked sites that are still related to work.
- Customized access – You can also allow access by department, user, group, network, or workstation. For example, you can customize Internet access according to job functions, like accounting or management.
Monitor Internet Usage Through a Time Tracker
Another great way to prevent employees from abusing internet access is by using online monitoring applications. These smart tools are able to keep track of everything that is happening within a company network. They can also identify websites, apps, and activities that may hinder the overall performance of an organization. Employee monitoring apps can help companies regulate productivity, allowing them to achieve their goals.
Traqq is an excellent example of a monitoring tool that promotes employee efficiency without damaging their morale. This lightweight employee monitoring software runs discreetly in the background, taking random screenshots from time to time. It also keeps track of the websites that employees access and the apps they use. On the dashboard, you will see what’s eating up the biggest chunks of their time.
What’s more, Traqq lets you monitor the activity levels of an employee, ensuring that they remain productive most of the time. All the while, this tool still promotes ethical monitoring. While it takes random screenshots, the generated images are blurred to an extent that will prevent sensitive information from becoming legible. This means that employees can rest easy knowing that nobody will be able to take a peek at their private messages or personal passwords.
After properly educating employees about the behaviors that do not fall under the company’s acceptable corporate internet use policy, HR should use effective strategies to curb web access abuse. Even so, business executives should always consider the overall workforce morale. While discipline is important, we should never forget to treat employees as humans who also need to take breaks from time to time.