Private Internet Usage in the Workplace

In this computerized era, communications can be done instantaneously. Information passed can be retrieved in seconds from any part of the world through internet access. Both the employers and employees have been benefited, such as employees could perform efficiently and employers were able to achieve their goals in their business. And the way the widespread usage of the internet has changed the entire business approach worldwide. Even though internet usage has grown to this extent, there are many harmful effects too. Both the employers and employees view non-work-related internet sites too at the workplace. The problems may be also due to internet hacking, or internet slacking. This may result in low productivity, which may, in turn, affect the organization. A general survey called Avira survey explains that 70% of the employee’s surf through the net in their offices and about 15% disobeyed the usage policy or the ban on the internet.“ Hence, an internet usage policy implementation can be done in the workplace to overcome this issue. Such policy usually dictates what is explained to be an appropriate internet usage behavior in a workplace. Such policies are framed to protect and safeguard the working environment in an organization, this policy is not framed to deny the rights of employees to access the internet but, it has been framed to set some rules or guidelines while using the internet. It also educates the employees about internet usage, its threats, and malicious infections that can affect the whole network. A training session can be conducted to educate them and to make them aware of internet security. On the whole, the implementation of an internet usage policy preserves the company data, information, etc, and helps to maintain business standards in terms of internet usage.

There are more dangerous sides of internet usage by the employees in the workplace too. Ie. The use of the internet for downloading any adult pages or pornographic materials or other undesirable materials that may be sensitive or making the trade secrets public mainly for personal gains etc can be serious issues. Sometimes, employees may quietly mail the customer database or their pricing structures to their mail ids with a thought in their mind, of resigning and starting a new business. For these reasons, employees may misuse the internet.

About Telstra international

Telstra International is the foremost leading global supplier of managed networking services. It is a division of the leading Australian-based, tier 1 telecommunications and media Services Company having the most technically advanced IP global network in the whole world.

It has recently released a social media policy due to some misbehavior of its employees. To avoid such embarrassing situations in the future, the management has framed this policy which explains that the staff ought to get authorization to use the internet and also should take part in ‘social media training programs conducted by the management before they make their representations on social networking sites about their company. This training helps in developing best practices, updating the current social trends in internet usages, etc. “Employees will need to gain authorization from both their immediate boss and Public Policy staff, plus participate in social media training programs, before being permitted to make any representation about Telstra on social networking sites”. (Winterford 2009).

These specified sites include (Facebook, MySpace, etc), micro-blogging sites (Twitter), file sharing sites (Flickr, YouTube), blogs or forums (Whirlpool, etc), or journals of record such as Wikipedia, etc.

This training helps in making the employees of Telstra aware of the resistance in disclosing confidential files to the public. If anyone fails to maintain the policy rules, they will be given a warning and if it’s a serious issue, it may also lead to the termination of the employment. The policy does not pour light on the personal use of the internet at the workplace, but it surely applies to the use of Telstra’s blog site, “nowwearetalking.com.au”. One of Telstra’s employees was chucked out due to his misbehavior of posting comments on micro-blogging site Twitter under the name ‘Fake Stephen Conroy’, in which he ridiculed the Federal Communications Minister. His comment to the media was very explosive and awful. Telstra was searching for examples of other Australian companies with such policies and planned to make this policy public to get ideas from the public or to ensure a debate through which they can get the ideas. Most of the public, like human resource consultancies and company managers, commented this social media policy to be ‘solid and straightforward’. And Telstra believed that many of the Australian companies might start following this policy for their betterment too. Then, to overcome these situations, Telstra put their effort to invest heavily in ‘Second Life’ (a virtual reality site), and also there was a continuous presence of their ‘Bigpond’ Internet support staff on Twitter which has resulted in resolving any customer issues. But it was not a successful one at the initial stage, but later proved to be an eye-opener. At first, the communication was done under this in a very corporate way and then the people couldn’t accept it. Later when they improved their strategy of communications in a playing level field, the people found it interesting and they accessed it more.

So, here this research pours light on the topic of ‘private internet usage at the workplace’ to provide a clear picture of this topic in the corporate platform.

Internet usage policy- example

In this research, it’s advisable to take a hypothetical company XYZ Corporation as an example. The company policy states that the company provides internet access in their professional environment/official premises, for which the right to access the internet has been rendered to everyone as same. This policy covers all the people of the organization including employees, contractors, supervisors, and students, who have access to the internet, Anyone using the internet facility needs to follow this policy and the company will not bear any unacceptable internet usage and behavior at the workplace. This policy makes the employees aware of the behavior and expectations they need to maintain while using the internet facility. But this does not mean that the policy threatens the usual behavior of the employees in the organization.

The definition of the policy tells that the internet users can be monitored by the management, several activities can be blocked, should be used only for business purposes and misuse of the internet can cause the termination of the employees too. This policy mainly tells that the internet usage includes “Email, Accessing Web Sites, Accessing News Group, chat, Files sharing/upload/download, Telnet” etc (Internet usage policy: definitions n.d.).

It’s the right of the company management to monitor internet usages. To make sure that the employees follow the policy rules, the company can log on to every site for further review. And the company has the right to block certain sites, which they feel to be not suitable for a working environment. The company every time makes sure that internet usage is been utilized only for business purposes. The users should not access or download the materials that seem to be object-able to other employees. These objectable materials may include jokes, harassments or discrimination of certain groups in the organization based on their sex, race, national origin, age, ethnicity, appearance, physical ability, disability, religion, social status, family status, political affiliation, language, medical status or any other actions prohibited by law. Some activities that are not permitted by the company are ‘harassing or insulting others, use of foul or offensive language, downloading or accessing pornographic or sex-related unauthorized materials, violation of company policies or rules, infecting or hacking the systems, manipulating the data figures of your document or others’.

The management makes sure that the employees should not upload, save or send the official, confidential or sensitive documents to the outsiders or public, nor they should save it any insecure areas or locations. If any of the employees misuse this internet usage or tries to disobey the policy, the management has the full right to terminate that employee.

This was the policy framed by XYZ Corporation, including all the rules and regulations for using the internet at the workplace.

Every person in an organization will wish to use the internet at their workplace and sometimes may utilize the facility for their personal use, which turn to be illegal. In the case of XYZ Corporation, the internet usage policy set by the management included all the nooks and corners to be taken care of while using the internet at the workplace. It states all the blocked sites, illegal usage ways, nonpermitted sites, and the expected behavior of the employees while accessing the internet usage. And finally, they mentioned the disciplinary action expected to be taken against any illegal usage, or unacceptable behavior of the employees at the workplace. In most of the organizations, where access to the internet is available, 56% of the people say that usage of the internet has a positive impact and 28% of the employees claim an improvement in their work, whereas another 28% explains that the internet usage has made them happier and feel less stressed at the workplace.

When the employees feel that their employers support them for having a balanced work and home life at the same time, they bring around themselves to become more productive, honest, and dedicated to their work and in turn to their organization. And this provides a strong competitive advantage for the company to attract and retain the employees with them. Hence, it can be said that the XYZ Corporation could create a good competitive advantage through this policy. There is also a possibility of losing valuable trade secrets or confidential files with just a few clicks on the mouse. These growing situations call for the importance of monitoring the electronic workplace always.

Employers always aspire to maintain the company’s reputation and at the same time to increase the productivity level of the employees. XYZ Corporation has its policy with all the essential rules and the disciplinary actions against their misuse. Their policy includes the acceptable behavior needed for the employees while using the internet. The policy not only describes the acceptable behavior needed for the employees but also the names of the sites which are blocked and not suitable for the workplace environment. It clearly defines the disciplinary actions proposed for the misuse of the internet and sending of the official confidential data to the public. Hence, giving internet access at the workplace is a good idea to improve the performance level of the employees, but it’s important to monitor the usage at each level to ensure that the employees adhere to the company internet usage policy.

There have not been any federal or state laws that prohibit the monitoring of the internet usage of employees by employers at the workplace. Even though these laws provide some limitations to internet usage at workplaces, they can be easily overcome by various exceptions in the laws or policies at the workplace. The organizations which usually have an internet usage policy will highlight those rules which prone to be troublesome in the past or will emphasize those issues which were worrying them in the past. When the policy seems to be confusing or unclear, it’s up to the management to make a decision. Here. In the case of XYZ Corporation, it’s the management who described the policy, rather than the government or legislation. The statistics report tells that “among those who surf the Web for personal reasons, information-gathering tops the list: 89% report accessing research or search engines and 75% report checking out news or sports headlines. Also popular is screen and comparison shopping (67%), which ranks much higher than making actual purchases online (45%). Almost half (49%) of employees who surf the Web for personal reasons report checking out the stock market at work, much higher than the number who report doing online banking (14%). Lower down the list are playing games online (22%) and visiting adult websites while at work (11%). ” (Internet usage at work poses a challenge for employers 2000).

Companies have taken up these statistics data for reference to set up a good, effective internet usage policy. XYZ Corporation is one such company that takes up the positives from such data, and which implemented the same with some modifications to suit their company culture. The more interesting fact is that over 73% of these employees agree that their employers have the right to monitor their online activities. The XYZ Corporation employees also might be supporting this fact and that could be the reason why the management has incorporated such a monitoring system at the workplace. The HR professionals are typically the gatekeepers or the protectors of the employee’s data. They must inform the employees about the latest updated technologies, their usage methods, and the restrictions in using the same. The HR department of the XYZ Corporation would have suggested the internet usage policy and they would have formulated the policy through a discussion with the management and the employees. Although legislations aim at protecting the employees from the employer’s monitoring of their data and online sites, it won’t happen dramatically. There will be ongoing attempts made by the legislation to protect employee rights and privacy in the future. As far as the employees maintain their discipline and limits while using the internet during working hours, the issue of privacy and monitoring does not cause much problem. Only once they manipulate the rules, they fall in trouble. As far as XYZ Corporation is concerned, the internet policy implemented is a valuable one with all the essential points noted and informed to the employees over there.

XYZ Corporation, on the implementation of its internet usage policy, has improved its social image. Thereby the employee morale also has been impacted deeply that the employees are well aware of their social responsibility. “Fostering good staff morale may prove more effective than tough usage rules.” (How to avoid embarrassing leaks 2008).

As said, employee morale has to be first inculcated before formulating rules and policies. But, this morale can be created in the organization through implementing such policies, which can create an impact on employee morale. Internet usage policy is one such policy through policy; the employees come to know about the widely acceptable behavior and ethical reliance of the usage of the internet for private matters at the workplace. The usage of the internet has always helped to improve the knowledge level, performance level, etc, but at the same time has created many problems also associated with these assets. XYZ Corporation possibly can implement surveillance technology and filtering software for monitoring online activities.

An internet use policy should typically include

  • Scope of the policy
  • A statement of defining the appropriate use
  • Examples of appropriate use Vs inappropriate use
  • A statement defining the punishment for inappropriate use
  • A statement about the extend of monitoring
  • A signature of the employees after reading it saying that they understood the policy

As the XYZ Corporation has implemented an internet usage policy with all these essential requirements, this policy proves to be an effective one. Yet, the management of each company seems to be confused while formulating the policy. The dilemma is regarding which components to be added up and what punishments to be charged since the enforcement does not come and the punishments can cause the employee discontent. While implementing the internet usage policy, they should also consider several criteria like ‘what type of employees the company should have, what type of culture the company should have, the charge of punishment should fit the offense, what is the cost of implementation, the implementation of the policy should be communicated to the employees, etc. so on the whole, the managers should weigh the effects of the policy at the workplace with certain pitfalls such as work dissatisfaction. XYZ Corporation or any other company taking up a decision to frame an internet usage policy should keep all these essentials in their mind and should be ready to face the problems raised by the employees. In the case of Telstra international, employees were not only made to get authorization but also made to participate in ‘social media training programs’ before they could make any depictions on their social networking sites about the company or about the products. When this policy was framed, many issues have been arisen from the employees of Telstra. This was because the management was not well equipped and planned about the implementation of the policy and was not informed to the employees, that they made the management in a crisis. It was the first time that they introduced a social media training program and hence had to withstand some initial issues. But Telstra’s policy turned to be successful and many Australian companies followed the same for their betterment. So, for making a policy to be successful, the organization should first identify their culture, people’s behavior, workplace environment, etc before implementing the policy. Once, the internet policy has been implemented, the management should be well equipped or prepared to answer the employees as well as taking disciplinary actions against the misuse done. When an employee went against the policy, Telstra was prepared enough to chuck him out of the organization even though they had to undergo a series of awkward situations.

An internet usage policy must include:

  • A policy that describes the usage of the internet as a privilege and the disciplinary actions that can be taken up to the termination on the misuse of the policy provisions.
  • It should have a purpose, explaining the policies and procedures for accessing the internet at the office premises.
  • The policy should also include that the policy applies to all personnel with access to the Internet and related services through the Company network infrastructure.
  • It should also include the internet and e-mail etiquette to be followed at the workplace infrastructure.
  • The policy must ensure the security factors too such as Company users who identify or perceive an actual or suspected security problem shall immediately contact the Company Information Systems Security Manager. Users should not disclose their account password nor should they allow another person to access their account. Similarly, users should not access the account of another user without their consent.
  • The policy must also include the appropriate use and the inappropriate use of internet usage at the workplace premises.

A newly implementing internet usage policy should consider the following while framing the policy.

  • A definition of personal use is anything that is not related to work.
  • Clear guidance on the time allotted for accessing the net and the when net can be accessed.
  • A warning should be provided to stand for by any copyright and licensing restrictions.
  • An instruction on, what to do before downloading a material, that is mainly regarding its source, size, etc.
  • What and all personal use is not permitted like pornographic sites, adult sites, chat rooms, etc.
  • Any disciplinary actions that may be taken if misused.
  • Warnings like any site visited by the employees are traceable.
  • The duration, individual work will be logged.

The two major reasons for the use of internet usage policy are

  • To ensure that the communication resources are not wasted and productivity is not affected.
  • To help in protecting the business from any damaging materials being sent through mail or intranet and any other possible legal actions.

Monitoring and tracking the employee’s activities should be done carefully, as it is regarding privacy and confidentiality. The law supports monitoring of internet usage only after making the employees aware of the extent and the scale of monitoring. One should be very careful while monitoring purely personal documents. Avoid opening such personal mails or confine the monitoring to the heading or address, as it may contain highly sensitive personal matters.

While making the disciplinary actions to be done against the misuse caused, one must be a little flexible too. If it’s a case of visiting the site for checking the scores or something for a few minutes, it’s not considered a serious crime. But working online for a lot more hours and doing personal work is a case to give a warning. And if it’s a case of accessing adult sites or the pornographic site or a case of transferring confidential files to the public, it’s a serious crime that can result even in termination. So, the policy must be communicated to the employees well and gets their consent, so that the staff will be aware of the consequences of their actions. The major use of the internet at work premises will be only for the work purpose and never the priority should be given for the personal matters.

Every employee of the organization must value and respect this policy. It holds an incredible advantage for managers to manage ethics in their organization. Managing ethics has turned to be a serious issue in every organization, as it is very critical to understand and manage highly diverse standards and values in the workplace. One such value is the usage of the internet in work premises appropriately and beneficially. Hence, the field of managing business ethics in the work premises has been a major topic for philosophers and critics. Ethics can be maintained in an organization in all respects by conducting ethics programs. It will benefit the organization in many ways like

  • Help to create a moral course in turbulent times.
  • It leads to strong productivity.
  • It helps in employee growth.
  • It helps to make the staff aware that the policies are legal
  • Ethics builds a strong public image.
  • It results in a substantially improved employee culture and urn an improved society.
  • Hence, ethics programs need to be conducted at the workplaces, to make the employees know about the morale in the company. This employee morale will include obeying the internet usage policy of the concerned company. The best way to avoid ethical issues (like misuse of the internet usage policy) at workplaces is to avoid their chance of occurrences. Internet usage is sanctioned to carry out only the organization-related works and not their works. Internet usage also brings the possibility of violating the security of the confidential and official information of the company. Internet usage also leads to the possibility of defecting the system through viruses. Hence, these situations call for the urgency of creating an ‘internet usage policy’ in all organizations. Many big and small organizations have framed this policy and still follow the policy. Policies like, ‘internet usage policy’ always raise the moral level of the employees and in turn lead to the betterment and public image of the organization.

With the repeated use of the internet at the workplace, the employees become addicted to mainly two types of habits. These habits or tendencies can be consciously controlled actions and automatic tendencies. The consciously controlled actions may be mainly those works that are potentially governed by personal commitments. And the second habit of automatic tendency like checking personal e-mails or start surfing through net comes as an addiction to the employees when they get stressed out at the workplace. Surely, those persons who are highly directed with high self-esteem would overcome the automatic tendency situation. These two tendencies may be caused due to one and only one reason, i.e. prolonged exposure to the internet facility. These tendencies can be overcome by certain changes in work routines and practices. The management should realize this fact and improve the employee quality by educating them about internet usage and the way to use it beneficially, to motivate them. This can be a possible way to overcome the awkward circumstances caused by internet misuse.

The wide accepted usage of the internet has lead to the blurring of the limits and boundaries of the public and private life spheres. A better understanding of how technology is implemented in different lifestyles and organizational cultures may give an idea about its usage and limitations. The internet plays a vital role in the organizations for the communications to be done easily, and hence this service cannot be distasted for any reasons in this computerized world. In the present world, persons access the internet nearly for more hours at their workplace than at their homes for their personal needs. Even if there is a strictly regulated internet usage policy in the organizations, there is an essential need for monitoring of internet usage. This helps the management to identify whether the employees of the organization adhere to these policy rules. The employees must be informed that their internet online activities may be monitored by the management at their workplace so that the company can ensure that their policy has been strictly followed. The organization and the employees should get the best possible outcomes from the usage of the internet at work premises.

Reference List

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