Small Business Advice
Personal Internet Usage
"... a total being who can do many different things - think, fight, remember, love, anticipate, copulate, sing, laugh, imagine. All the activities can be used for good ends, all can be abused and turned to evil ends."
— Robert McAfee Brown
The Internet has become a way of life, one that most people use every day for both work and non-work activities. A recent study by Burst Media found that, out of all the time workers spend on the Web, 26% is doing personal business (frequently referred to as cyberslacking). Additionally, it was found that, on average, workers go to the Web for personal reasons about three times a day. Generation Y’s tend to spend much more time doing this personal work than Baby Boomers. Surprisingly, only 28% of those that do personal business on company time feel guilty about it.
A study by two professors (Garrett and Danziger) found that employees that have higher job status, income and education use the Internet more at work than lower-status employees. For this study, they collected data from more than 1,000 workers at different levels.
Another study showed the surprising results that 71% of the workers who use the Internet for personal reasons believe that it is likely that a supervisor is aware of this personal use. Obviously, with this type of tacit approval by management, there is no real incentive to stop or curb this abuse.
Yet another study found that, “employers suffer untold productivity losses from the widespread personal use of the Internet by their employees.” This same study found that these employees believed that the employer would not be held liable for anything sent from a business computer. However, there have been many successful lawsuits brought against employers for having pornography and others things sent from their company computers.
So many employees (especially younger ones) do not clearly see the line between their personal lives and their work lives. As a result, a policy restricting the personal use of the Internet is not going to be well received.
Some of the more successful policies that I have seen in my travels are those that allow personal Internet usage during breaks, meals and after hours. Other firms have the policy that surfing the Web is okay if you are through with your assigned work.
There is no question in my mind that personal usage of the Web is tantamount to taking personal phone calls on the job, so firms need to have a very forthright policy on this activity. Company policies regarding illegal activities such as accessing or sending pornographic material should be clearly defined. These policies as well as any and all methods of monitoring usage should be included in the Employee Handbook.
There are many reasons to prohibit Internet surfing and many more to allow it. Each company must carefully consider the consequences of allowing Internet usage and the potential for a lawsuit. Each must then ensure that it has both a clear cut usage policy and consequences for violating the policy.
Now go out and make sure that you are comfortable with your policy on personal Internet usage.
You can do this!
Jerry Osteryoung is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University. He is also the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at FSU and Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 850-644-3372.