How to Prevent Internet Abuse at Work
Are your employees using the internet as a work tool or for personal use on company time?
The use of the internet at work has increased significantly over the years for business communications, transactions, and research. The internet has also become one of the biggest time wasters to employers, because of the increased non-work-related use by employees. For example, according to a recent report by SurfControl (Snoddy), a web filtering and security software provider, office workers who spend one hour a day at work on various non-work activities (e.g., trading stock shares, booking vacations, shopping online) could be costing businesses as much as $35 million a year. The survey found that 59% of internet use at the office was not work-related, and employees who traded in stock shares played online games, shopped, and booked vacations cost companies the most. It is clear from this type of research that internet abuse is a severe cause for concern.
Not only are there concerns for productivity, but also addiction is related to things like pornography, gambling, social networks, and video gaming activities. It has been argued behavioral addictions are no different from chemical addictions (e.g., alcoholism, heroin, or tobacco addiction) regarding the core components of addiction such as salience, tolerance, withdrawal, mood modification, conflict, time waste, and relapse. Most excessive users spend vast amounts of time online for social contact (mostly for chat room services). Young (1999) claimed internet addiction was a broad term that covered a wide variety of behaviors and impulse control problems that have been classified by five specific subtypes (i.e., cyber sexual addiction, cyber-relationship addiction, net compulsions, information overload, and computer addiction).
Each of these addictions translates into lost productivity and time wasters for employees with these problems. Many factors make abuse in the workplace seductive. Research in the area of computer-mediated communication has shown virtual environments have the potential to provide short-term comfort, excitement, and distraction (Griffiths, 2000c). They also give anonymity allowing the users to engage in their behavior privately, believing the chance of being caught is minimal.
Finding ways to eliminate internet misuse and addictive behaviors while still allowing the positive benefits to remain in the work environment is possible.
Create Internet Use Policy – Clearly define company policy on all computers, internet, and email us including:
- Computer, internet, and email are all company property, and the company reserves the right to monitor use and access
- Definition of misuse items that would result in corrective action (e.g., gambling, pornography, and other non-job-related uses).
- A provision prohibiting communications that are contrary to the company’s harassment and discrimination
- A statement that the use of the internet and email are for business purposes
Train employees in the policy are defining expectations, proper use, and abuse that will result in corrective actions. Ask employees to be vigilant in using their work time, internet, and computer resources wisely. Give employees a diagnostic checklist to help them see if they might have an internet problem.
Internet Filter – There are excellent internet filters available that block or restrict access to undesired websites. Work closely with your IT personnel to develop restrictions on various categories and sites. In addition to restricting sites like pornography and gambling, some organizations even restrict YouTube and Facebook. Consider restricting any site that does not serve a business purpose. Balance restrictions by not being too mistrusting. Allow those who do not abuse the system to do some personal things during breaks and
Monitor Use – In addition to informing employees, your organization monitors internet use, monitors access to restricted sites, especially for those who have shown a problem in this area. If you suspect an employee may have a problem with online abuse, request that the company’s information technology specialist look at the history of the employee’s history because the computer’s hard disk will have information about everything the employee has ever accessed. One of the most uncomplicated checks is to look at an employee’s list of bookmarks or history.
Give Support – For lesser violations, give support to identified computer abusers, helping them understand the problems associated with their misuse. In some instances, creating a performance improvement plan defining the problem needed changes, and getting the employee’s signature can be a useful tool to bring about needed changes. Others may need assistance with counseling services or addiction recovery.
Supervisor Reinforcement –the Supervisors must ensure adherence to all company policies and procedures, including the internet, computer, and email policy. Train leaders to remain aware of employees’ computer activities and other indicators that show there may be a problem. For example, decreased productivity, missing deadlines, spending excessive amounts of time, and shifting to another site when someone walks by, can each indicate there is a potential problem. Raise awareness, set expectations, monitor, give feedback, and reinforce the need appropriately.
Corrective Action – Employees who violate your internet, computer, and email policy should be held accountable. The level of the violation drives the corrective action response. For lesser violations, you may give them support and coaching to help them improve. For more severe violations and repeat offenders, discharge may be the best recourse. Keep in mind other employees know when abuse is taking place. If they see someone getting away with wasting time causes resentment, negativity, and may lead to them adopting poor internet habits as well. Be consistent and take necessary actions to enforce your policy.
Internet abuse can be a hidden activity that requires clear policies, training, monitoring, blocking, leader reinforcement, and corrective action to keep the internet a productive tool–not a time waster.