Big Brother is watching

Big Brother is watching

Managers with a problem employee who hasn't performed to expected levels might want to put measures in place to monitor their email and Internet usage. On the other side of the same coin, anybody who's been slacking off lately should also read on.

A recent survey in the US found that more than a quarter of employers had fired workers for misusing email and one-third for misusing the Internet on company time. The ePolicy Institute compiled its results from surveys with more than 300 companies of all sizes.

As you might expect, porn and other forms of inappropriate content were the most obvious grounds for showing somebody the door, with 84 per cent of bosses that had fired somebody citing this as their reason. Perhaps more surprisingly, one in three admitted pulling the trigger in response to excessive personal use of the Internet.

On the email front managers said violating company policy (64 per cent), inappropriate or offensive language (62 per cent), excessive personal use (more than a quarter) and breaching confidentiality rules (22 per cent) had driven them to give somebody a permanent holiday.

The Internet has drastically changed the way most people work and must surely be regarded as the most effective business communications tool ever developed. But for all the benefits it provides in terms of potential productivity gains, it has also seen an uncontrollable explosion in the amount of information being exchanged while blurring the boundaries between work and play.

A fair percentage of 'business' traffic is considered inappropriate and employers are understandably nervous, so it comes as no surprise to find out that two-thirds of survey respondents are monitoring Internet connections and using software to block inappropriate websites. No doubt bandwidth munchers such as YouTube and social networking sites like Facebook feature prominently on those blocked lists. Of course, where you draw the line as a manager is a point of debate. Minor excesses in personal email use during the day are much more likely to be overlooked if you know the same person is happy to work late when there's a deal to be closed or a deadline to be met. My guess would be that some managers use email or Internet abuse as the final straw when somebody hasn't been delivering what's generally expected of them.

Technology makes our personal and professional lives easier to manage in many respects but it also makes us increasingly accountable for our actions. Sarbanes-Oxley and other compliance legislation in particular has played a major role in making corporate scrutiny of executive behaviour ever more intense. Only last week I heard that a senior executive left a major player in the local IT industry after an audit revealed some creative accounting in relation to expense claims. On a sliding scale that's a lot more serious than YouTube or Face-Book misdemeanours.

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