The color drained from Ben’s face when he was handed the report. His hand shook when he picked it up and scanned the contents.
It was a log of everything he had done on the Internet since the beginning of the year — every website he had visited, every IM conversation he had had, every email he had sent out and received — not only by the company mail but those sent from his Yahoo and Hotmail accounts.
Everything he had said and done on the Internet during the last year lay before him, and it wasn’t a pretty picture.
His boss’ face was expressionless. The HR woman sitting beside him looked grim.
“I’m afraid we are going to have to let you go, Ben,” Mr. Donaldson said at length. “You’ve been wasting company time and resources, and the websites you’ve accessed and the mail you’ve sent and received are, well…”
Ben’s hand shook as he dropped the report on the desk top. He nodded spastically, and for a minute he thought his head might fall off his shoulders.
As if it had been severed by a guillotine.
After they escorted Ben out of the building, Sam Donaldson sighed and looked at the HR Person, Mary Tyler.
“I didn’t like that,” he said. “Ben Morgan was basically a good employee. He was creative and put out a lot of good work.”
Mary shrugged and tapped the edge of Ben’s file on the desktop. “We can’t have that kind of thing going on here. He was accessing gambling sites and his email messages were questionable.” mywegmansconnect
She left the office, making her way through the line of cubicles in which employees now worked more feverishly than ever. Sam Johnson watched her go, and decided he didn’t like the way the atmosphere of the workplace had changed. He didn’t like what this kind of employee surveillance had done to morale.
The uneasiness he felt was almost palpable.
We’re watching you
It’s no secret that the days of worker privacy have long since passed. With the serious potential of harassment lawsuits and security breaches that involve the release of company private information, most companies large and small have implemented Internet monitoring spy ware.
A recent Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey report has revealed that companies are “increasingly putting teeth in technology policies.” Workers have been fired from 26% of the companies surveyed for misuse of the Internet, and 25% have terminated employees for misusing e-mail.
As of 2005, fully 76% are monitoring employees’ website connections and are blocking inappropriate web URL’s. Employers track content, keystrokes, and time spent at the keyboards. e-Mail is under scrutiny with 55% of those surveyed storing and reviewing messages.
Morale and Big Brother
But the question becomes, is high surveillance really counterproductive? What happens to employee productivity when management decides to tightly monitor Internet use and computer resources?
The answer to that question appears to be: tight Internet monitoring as well as punitive use of the results may have severely deleterious results.
In an April 2003 article on Medzilla.com, a leading recruiter for the Medical Profession, Dr. Frank Heasley, was quoted as saying “Excessive monitoring of employees’ Internet activities is damaging for morale. It signals that the employer doesn’t trust its staff, and it sends the message that the employer thinks that any activity that cannot be directly attributed to ‘work’ is simply goofing off.”
He goes on to say it is seriously “demotivating and ultimately will stifle creativity and damage productivity.”
Toward Internet Enlightenment…
Today, employers find themselves caught between two extreme and opposing points of view. Both are fraught with peril.
The first viewpoint involves defining strict policies of Internet and email use, close monitoring, and exacting punitive measures when the policy is violated. The second is to allow virtually unrestricted use of Internet and email resources; a “laid back” approach that might encourage dangerous employee abuse.
If Dr. Heasley is to be believed, the first is damaging to morale, and could ultimately result in a serious loss of resources (as employees leave the company in protest) and a diminishment of productivity as work slows down because of lack of motivation and unrest.
The second can produce a “free for all” situation in which company privacy can be seriously violated.
Somewhere between these two extremes lies an approach that protects company assets but at the same time allows enough freedom for the employee to feel she is not placed on some sort of “short — and intellectually strangling — leash”.
One needs a policy that protects the company and creates an intellectually free atmosphere of company loyalty, creativity, and high productivity.
“I kind of feel like, someone is watching me…”
Although 80% of all employers surveyed say they notify employees that they are being monitored, it is not clear how much of a deterrent to private Internet and email use and abuse this truly is.
The fact that an employee “intellectually” knows the company is surveying its staff translates into, “Yeah, but there are so many employees they’ll never notice me, and besides what I’m doing isn’t that big a deal.”
The employee will go on personally using the Internet until the day she suddenly finds herself in her boss’ office discovering that her web and email use has been tracked, and she is about to be escorted off the premises.
In addition, unfair and inconsistent application of policies and discipline leads to morale problems. While one employee, known to be a productive worker and highly valued for her skills, is allowed to go shopping on line, another worker is disciplined for it.
If you think that policies applied unfairly or inconsistently are not noticed (and resented) by the workforce, think again.
Practices like these translate into low morale, low productivity, and in extreme cases…lawsuits.
Toward an Alternate Internet Policy
How, then, can an Alternate Internet Policy be developed, one that boosts morale, encourages productivity and still protects the company from time and resource waste, compromise, and exposure to lawsuits?
To develop such a policy, Company Executives need to consider and do the following:
1) Implement a consistent surveillance program that uses software capable of recording and logging email messages, sites and chat rooms visited, time spent on sites, and Internet message and chat room conversations.
2) Define what “reasonable use” is and what can and can not be tolerated. Are 10 – 15 minutes spent checking company and private email, shopping online, or paying bills ok? Is this to be distinguished from a five hour online video game session which may use up considerable bandwidth during times when the client is uploading data?
3) Determine whether email conversations between friends, or even between clandestine lovers, are as serious and worthy of attention as email sent out to encourage revolt against the boss, disparage a fellow coworker or divulge private company information.
4) Establish a written policy of Internet, email and phone usage. Define disciplinary steps and measures which will modify employee behavior, rather than punish it.
5) Inform employees of the policy and state plainly that they are under surveillance. State clearly that Company Management is not looking for occasional violators, but serious abusers and define what serious abuse is.
6) Be prepared for the Internet addict. The Internet is a seriously addicting environment. For some it is like placing an alcoholic in front of a cabinet of booze. Before firing a productive employee, try to work with that individual to overcome his/her addiction. Perhaps removing the Internet from their computer altogether is the solution.