Employee Internet Management: Getting People Back to Work

By Johnson, Pamela R.; Rawlins, Claudia | Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, January 2008 | Go to article overview
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Employee Internet Management: Getting People Back to Work


Johnson, Pamela R., Rawlins, Claudia, Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict


INTRODUCTION

The cubicle reverberates with the sound of a keyboard clicking and, whenever the boss looks in, the worker is peering intently at a spreadsheet on his computer screen. But behind this industrious facade lies the sophisticated machinations of a high-tech goof-off artist, who plays video games on the Internet and presses an on-screen panic button that brings a business document to the screen and the sound of prerecorded typing to his speakers as soon as his boss approaches (Marron, 2000). Bosses are beginning to take a dim view of all this virtual goldbricking. They see it as an insidious, profit-eating virus, costing corporate America billions of dollars a year in wasted computer resources (Naughton, 1999). More and more employees are checking their stock prices, shopping for travel bargains, and exchanging personal e-mail via the Internet while at work, even though their companies prohibit these activities (Marsan, 2000). In order to combat the use of the Internet by employees during business hours, a new industry has recently emerged called Employee Internet Management (EIM). This paper will describe Internet use and abuse, delineate the costs to organizations, detail how employees "cover their tracks" while surfing, describe EIM, and discuss what managers have done to manage employee use of the Internet while on company time.

INTERNET USE AND ABUSE

Bosses live in fear of a meltdown like the one Lockheed Martin suffered. The defense contractor's e-mail system crashed for six hours after an employee sent 60,000 coworkers an e-mail (with e-receipt requested) about a national prayer day. For a company that posts 40 million e-mails a month, the crash cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. A Microsoft rescue squad had to be flown in to painstakingly dismantle the computer code gridlock the employee's e-mail had created (Naughton, 1999). In addition, a Washington County sheriff faces discipline for sending a lewd email about "The Rules for Bedroom Gold" to county employees, including a county commissioner. In another case, an employee at a Portland software-maker was fired after accidentally shipping an unflattering e-mail about a colleague companywide (Rose, 1999). Not only are employees sending inappropriate e-mails, they are reading the news (72%); developing travel plans (45%); shopping (40%); job searching (37%); checking stocks (34%); downloading music (13%); gambling (11%); and viewing pornography (4%); all on company time (Bosses disapprove, 2000). According to a survey on Internet use, 56% of the people openly admitted to using the Internet for personal reasons while at work. This reinforces recent surveys from Nielsen-NetRatings showing that Americans spent on the average 21 hours a month (more than one hour per day) conducting personal Web surfing at work (Cyberslacking at work, 2000). Currently, 122 million people have Internet access at work. Predictions say that number will rise to 272 million by 2004 ('Cyberslackers' taking toll, 2000). With this rise of Internet access, there is a developing trend toward Internet Addiction. Addicted internet users skip sleep, ignore family responsibilities, and show up late for work. The consequences are severe. Many suffer from marital problems, have failed in school, lost a job, and have accumulated debt (Holliday, 2000). In addition, there are the costs to organizations.

COSTS TO ORGANIZATIONS

One major cost to organizations is lower productivity. When employees use workplace PCs for personal reasons, their productivity decreases. In general, most companies expect that the internet will be used for a small amount of personal use such as checking e-mail or occasionally ordering personal items. This is comparable to allowing employees to use the company telephone to make a quick personal call (Mills, et. al., 2001). But this is not the case. The U. S. Treasury Department recently monitored the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) Workforce's Internet use.

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