Reduce Internet Abuse During Business Hours

Reduce Internet Abuse

Employees who surf the Internet for personal reasons during working hours are forcing more and more organisations to regulate its use or limit access.

Statistics show that more than 50% of employees use the web for personal reasons during an average working day, which can decrease productivity, have an adverse effect on customer service, choke bandwidth and, in extreme cases, expose an organisation to legal liability.

Productivity Issues

Abuse of the privilege of Internet access can hurt an organisation's reputation for quality and service, making staff slow to respond to customer's needs and jeopardising task deadlines. In your efforts to maintain your quality of service and credibility, this is an important issue to consider.

Technology Resource Drain

Practically speaking, having employees using the Internet for purposes other than work is a drain on your bandwidth and will slow down response times for those who are actually using it for work purposes. It may also lead to additional unwanted business costs, such as increased Internet service provider fees or extra web hosting fees for excessive server traffic or data storage.

A Framework For Managing Abuse

Organisations should carefully shape and structure their policy concerning employee Internet use. Ideally, the management team will create a positive culture that maximises productivity and reduces liability.

Organisations should question how best to deal with incidents of abuse and consider the wider effect on staff morale of, for instance, suspending an employee's Internet access or issuing a warning.

Here are some positive steps organisations can take to deal with potential abuse before it becomes a problem:

Hiring Practice

Prospective employees can be screened for Internet misuse tendencies at the hiring stage in the form of a survey or as part of their interview. Recruiters can pose questions designed to assess a candidate's previous Internet behaviour and attitude towards the use of company bandwidth. This can help to identify those for which this might be an issue. Candidates who display an indifferent or negative attitude towards technology-related integrity may be turned down for key management positions or may need to be monitored carefully.

The Internet Addiction Test (IAT) was constructed to measure symptoms of overuse. It provides an assessment tool to identify potential Internet abusers and, if necessary, screen them out during the interview process.

Outline Your Internet Usage Policy

Prevention is always better than cure and one simple way of alleviating the misuse of the Internet is to establish a very clear usage policy that is spelled out to all new hires during the selection process. Applying and enforcing your policy during the induction period of new employees will significantly reduce the risk of abuse occurring later on.

What should an Internet usage policy look like?

  • Clearly set out the obvious prohibited uses and your expected rules of online behaviour and access privileges
  • Spell out the penalties for violation of the policy and the consequence of actions that might adversely affect the company network (e.g. viruses or system slow-downs due to heavy loading etc)
  • Require any employee who needs to routinely use the Internet to sign the company's policy and agree to be bound by its rules
  • Alert employees to the fact that their Internet activity will be monitored from time to time and that inappropriate use may result in disciplinary action
  • Keep your policy up to date to take account of new or updated technology in the workplace that might make it redundant

Make Use Of Filtering / Monitoring Technology

Use filtering software on your server to screen out any undesirable websites and remove temptation from your employees' way. In the past, the main goal was to block pornography sites, but today's more sophisticated software can screen other problematic websites such as gambling portals, sports news sites etc. Filter out any sites that could be objectionable or waste time and lead to unproductiveness.

Whilst filtering will solve some potential problems, there will always be those tech-savvy employees who find a way of working around it. Therefore you will need some method of monitoring activity. Monitoring software allows employers to easily track online activity, such as websites visited, to see if inappropriate material is being accessed.

Securing Your Organisation's Integrity

According to a survey by technology analyst firm IDC, 30-40% of Internet access is spent on non-work-related browsing and a staggering 60% of all online purchases are made during working hours. In addition, 90% of employees feel that the Internet can be addictive and 41% admit to personal surfing at work for more than three hours per week.

Managers can react badly to the discovery of Internet abuse and respond hastily with warning, suspensions or dismissals. Whilst swift action may end the abuse, it can generate unwanted costs – such as increased staff turnover, additional recruiting and retraining expenses etc. The termination of employees can also create a culture of fear and mistrust in the workplace and affect productivity. Instead, companies should look at retraining negative behaviour and rehabilitate rather than terminate.

Implications For The Future

Having a clear system in place that incorporates policies and procedures allows organisations to handle incidents of employee Internet abuse swiftly and efficiently. Early detection is important in limiting incidents of abuse. Screening applicants to avoid hiring potential problems, developing Internet usage policies, and reinforcing those policies are ways in which organisations can protect themselves.

Don't Go Overboard

Finally, keep things in perspective. Understand that employees who work long hours for you may have no choice but to pay their bills online during the day or send emails to family members. To reprimand someone who is a hard worker for using the Internet too much may be short sighted if they are performing well in all other areas.