Developing an Effective Company Policy for Employee Internet and Email Use

By Arnesen, David W.; Weis, William L. | Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Developing an Effective Company Policy for Employee Internet and Email Use


Arnesen, David W., Weis, William L., Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict


ABSTRACT

This paper provides the necessary organizational steps to develop an effective employee Internet and email policy. First, we examine the growth in personal use of the Internet and email in the workplace. Second, we will explain the potential liability of both the employee and employer. Third, we will discuss whether employer monitoring of employee Internet and email use is effective. Fourth, we will examine the need to develop an organizational culture of responsible employee Internet and email use. Finally, we will look at the required elements of an effective company policy governing Internet and email usage.

Recent surveys have shown that most employees use their work email for personal use and over a third of workers admit that they regularly surf the Internet while at work. The problem of improper Internet use exposes both the employer and employee to significant liability. Developing an organizational culture that supports responsible Internet and email use is essential to reducing this liability and increasing employee productivity. Building such an organizational culture includes employee involvement in developing a policy and communication of that policy to all employees. This research concludes that a successful company policy should provide for responsible personal use of the Internet and email in the workplace.

INTRODUCTION

According to a recent survey by the American Management Association (AMA), more than 75 percent of U.S. companies monitor their employees' Internet connections. Of the companies who do monitor their employees, more than 80 percent inform their employees that their Internet use is being tracked and emails monitored. However, despite this increase in the number of companies that monitor employee communications, personal use of the Internet and email in the workplace has continued to increase (American Management Associations, 2005).

Of the employees who access the Internet more than 60 percent admit that they use the Internet while at work for personal reasons (Websense, 2006). The most common personal uses of the Internet in the workplace include on-line shopping, banking, checking stock prices, watching sporting events, playing on-line poker, listening to Internet radio, booking travel, and accessing pornography sites. In the latter case, over 70 percent of the access to Internet pornography occurs during the 9 to 5 workday (Websense, 2006).

The problem of improper Internet and email use exposes both the employer and employee to significant liability. This may include lawsuits for sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment, and violations of copyright laws. Of the companies surveyed in 2005 by the AMA, 26 percent responded that they had fired employees for improper Internet use and another 25 percent had fired employees for inappropriate email use. One in 20 companies surveyed stated they have been the potential target of a lawsuit based on inappropriate email use. Clearly, the inappropriate use of the Internet and email is a growing problem.

HOW SERIOUS IS THE PROBLEM OF PERSONAL USE?

Make no mistake, email and the Internet have improved organizational efficiency, productivity, and growth. Email and the Internet have improved communication between employees and interaction with customers, helped expand the ability to research the market and competitors, and established marketing channels and brand names on a global basis. However, at the same time this technology has provided great benefits to employers, the problem with employee abuse of email and the Internet has continued to grow. How serious a problem is this abuse to employers? Is monitoring of employees necessary? Can this problem be solved to increase employee efficiency, reduce company liability and at the same time respect employee privacy?

Whether the employer is public or private, the type of work, and whether the employer has an Internet policy, affects the degree of employee personal use. …

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