Using Computer Resources for Personal Activities at Work: Employee Perceptions of Acceptable Behavior

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Today's organizations utilize a broad range of computer related resources including personal computers, I/O devices, digital storage space, network bandwidth, and software to provide their employees with tools for communications and increased productivity. The distributed, ubiquitous, nature of information technology at work and at home has given individuals greater access to, and control over, these resources. But the same characteristics have also increased the potential for misuse (personal use of organizational computer resources at work, PUCRW). Forms of this misuse behavior are often referred to as either cyberslacking or cyberloafing. It is estimated that Internet misuse costs US firms tens of billions of dollars a year in lost productivity (Leger, 2008). A 2006 survey found that the average worker admits to squandering 1.86 hours per eight hour work day and the top time waster is surfing the Internet for personal reasons (Malachowski & Simonini, 2006). Including other forms of computer resource misuse would increase this monetary and time cost. In the 1980s an employee could waste time playing games on their office PC, but beginning in the 1990s Internet access compounded the problem by enabling employees to do non-work related online activities such as sending e-mail, reading news, shopping, banking, or social networking. Each of these activities potentially leads to time wasting, loss of productivity, security problems, and employer liability (Oswalt, 2003; Woolnaugh, 2008).

These problems are increasing and it is becoming more critical for organizations to understand the relevant issues, from all perspectives, to develop viable computer resource use policies for their employees. Given that many employees use the Internet and other computer resources to do their job, it is not an option to eliminate connections to the Internet from everyone's office computer. Over time the view of PUCRW behavior has begun to change from being entirely negative to one where managers and researchers have recognized that there may be benefits to permitting this behavior in certain circumstances to improve overall productivity or employee job satisfaction (Bock & Ho, 2009; Sydney Morning Herald, 2009). Ultimately, the primary issue is to understand the factors that affect this employee behavior and also their perceptions of what activities are acceptable and which are not.

In this study we address these issues from the perspective of individual employee's perceptions and ethical orientation. We focus primarily on answering the following four questions: (1) What ethical orientation do individual employees employ when determining the extent to which PUCRW is acceptable? (2) If individuals are utilitarians, which factors do they consider when determining the consequences of their actions or their co-workers actions? (3) Does being a supervisor alter an employee's perceptions of the acceptability of PUCRW? (4) And finally, do demographic factors add to our understanding of an employee's perceptions? The answers to these questions will provide input for organizations when they develop an acceptable computer resource use policy taking into account the perceptions of their employees. These are particularly important questions to answer because existing countermeasures such as appropriate use policies or filter/monitoring systems that are intended to reduce misuse do not appear to work (Lee, Lee, & King, 2007).

The paper is organized as follows. The theoretical background for this study is presented in the next section including discussion of the utilitarian ethical orientation and related study hypotheses. This is followed by a discussion of the research methodology and findings. And the final section outlines the overall conclusions along with research and managerial implications.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND AND STUDY HYPOTHESES

Early studies of cyberslacking and cyberloafing assumed that employee behavior was entirely negative and needed to be eliminated through some means. …