Workplace Internet Monitoring – will it reduce waste, or is it futile fight & privacy battleground? | ActionHRM blog

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Workplace Internet Monitoring – will it reduce waste, or is it futile fight & privacy battleground?

Most of us would be hard pressed to deny use of use employer provided internet access and paid time for personal use.

In fact a survey by salary.com in 2012 found that over 64% of employees use employer provided internet access for personal use at some point each day. Most employees 68% spent less than 2 hours each week with close to 39% surveyed spending less than hour.

The challenge for companies is to find the correct line between time wastage minimisation and employee well being, productivity and happiness. Especially in today’s social and mobile connected world it’s no longer just a case of employers blocking specific sites – as employees can easily use personal smart phones to access the internet OR easily circumvent IT restrictions.

Some of the survey findings highlighted they key challenge for HR and business essentially whether this time truly wasted. Most employees (71%) felt that short breaks include personal internet surfing / reading made them more productive.

When asked what were the reasons for “wasting time” the top six were

  • Not challenged at work
  • Excessive hours
  • No incentives to work harder
  • Unsatisfied
  • Bored
  • Low Pay

Before rushing to try to restrict to block access realise it’s quickly likely to backfire and raises new privacy and Human Resource (HR) policy issues.

Unsurprising most companies find blocking access not only fails to reduce time wastage / cost but also reduces security as employees simply move their activity to their own devices.

If your company is interested or determined to implement any internet surveillance or monitoring technologies be mindful of state and federal laws.

  • Historically in Australia the 1998 Privacy Act did not restrict employers from monitoring of employees’ internet usage at work. NSW was the first state to introduce specific laws regulating workplace surveillance.
  • NSW Workplace Surveillance Act 2005) to regulate camera, computer and tracking surveillance (which is surveillance by means of electronic devices that monitor geographical location, such as a global positioning system) in the workplace. This covers overt and covert surveillance. Covert surveillance is unlawful except where the employer has gained a ‘covert surveillance authority’. Overt surveillance is allowed provided the employee has been given prior notice and indicate the kind of surveillance to be carried out (camera, computer or tracking), how the surveillance will be carried out, when the surveillance will start, whether the surveillance will be continuous or intermittent, and whether the surveillance will be for a specified limited period or ongoing.
  • In the USA very few states have specific laws against workplace internet monitoring so for the most part it’s legal so protect your privacy and job by following suggested employee actions.

The best course of action for all employers is to be open about Internet use and fair and acceptable limits. Talk to key stakeholders and groups and prepare, develop and implement a policy for acceptable use of the internet. If you would like a head start The Electronic Frontiers Australia have provided a sample policy for free use, and adaptation for your own needs.

For all employees some common tips to protect your privacy and your job include:

  • Don’t use company e-mail for private messages
  • Always assume messages could be shared / viewed
  • Keep your work and personal passwords private
  • Don’t visit sensitive or inappropriate Web sites at work
  • Turn off or lock your computer when you are away from your desk
  • Use you mobile/cell phone for personal calls where possible
  • Limit personal calls and personal internet usage while at work