Employee Internet Use: If You Can’t Trust Your Employees, Fire Them!

I can’t believe I’m writing this post in the year 2012 and not 2002…

I have written about my issues with the type of people competing with me us for jobs before, but this time I have taken issue with employers.

I have had the opportunity to work with some pretty amazing companies in the past and have had a few awesome bosses. What makes a good boss for an employee like me? One who gives me enough rope to hang myself with and waits to see what I do. I choose not to take advantage of the rope and hang myself. I am able to make a plethora of choices that affect my work ethic and productivity and I am happier in my job knowing that my boss trusts me to be responsible and assumes I am mature enough to make my own decisions. The work and results I produce are evidence of this.

With the proliferation of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter employers are struggling to determine how to address employee internet use. Some decide to ban networking sites in the workplace and others trust employees to use their own discretion and limit internet use at work to work-related activities. Some employers only grant access to the specific sites needed to perform ones job and block access to anything else. Changing job roles and the need for more access is dealt with on a case-by-case basis usually by HR or IT departments. The most popular excuse is that these filters are in place in order to protect confidential information on the employer’s network and to block potential security threats, but generally these policies are merely in place to control employee internet use. How else can we be sure that employees aren’t getting paid to sit on Facebook all day?

What’s even more exasperating is that companies believe that blocking non-work-related sites automatically translates to increased productivity. They presume the relationship between internet access and productivity is a linear relationship and don’t take into consideration that many of the employees will spend more time trying to get around internet filters than they would have spent to begin with. More importantly, since most people have smartphones it seems almost useless to ban these sites when employees have access to them at their fingertips anyway. If your employees are avoiding getting their work done, they will find a way to do it. Unrestricted internet access is linked to higher productivity from happier employees with a long list of benefits for employers.

Here’s what I think:
If you can’t trust your employees, fire them.

Limiting access to specific sites during specific times of the day is one thing (and I still think it is ridiculous) but on the basis that it encourages employees to sit at their desk throughout lunch and potentially get some work done, I’ll give employers +1 for this tactic.

But limiting employee internet use to a specific time slot (say, 10 minutes per day in 2 minute intervals) is just insulting and in my opinion, reflects poorly on the employer’s ability to hire productive, mature employees.

If you can’t trust your employees to use discretion and self-regulate their own internet use, you have a bigger problem than Facebook.

Think I’m wrong? Please speak up in the comments!

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5 Comments

  1. Billy-Jo Smith
    May 7, 2012 / 7:03 pm

    Good post Jamie,

    I do think it’s unfortunate that this is the way most businesses and corporations work.  However, as I do work for IT and in a large corporation, I also see the point of having these limitations in place.  I don’t think employees should take the limitations so personally.  The limits are set for many reasons some of them more warranted than others.  In my opinion I see the limitations as an excellent way to eliminate the gray areas of what is classified as too much personal browsing time.  It would be nice if we could all trust each other to respect the business we work for. To have faith that the reasons all employees were hired was not only for expertise and skill but for attitude, character, and ethics.  More often than not that is the case and I am not trying to generalize this but the fact is, not everyone would respect the
    freedom that is given and would abuse company time using various social media so that they’re always in touch.  Furthermore, who doesn’t have a smartphone/tablet and even further who doesn’t bring it to work with them.  I see it all over my workplace even though it is still against policy.(another unfortunate fact – corps. take too long to adjust) If employees really need that social media fix during their business day they have a device within reach.  I also must say that limiting access to not only social media but also other websites that may not be required for business purposes is very important.  Internal data leakage is a large concern for all business, whether that be intentional or not sometimes employees have to be protected from themselves.  I hope that didn’t sound too harsh but as you know technology moves extremely fast and most employees don’t have a lot of time to keep up as they are focused on their own careers.  This leaves them susceptible to social engineering and other tech based attacks.

    All this being said, I do see a shift happening toward a more free environment for employees, whether that be BYOD(bring your own device) or social media/streaming site acceptance.
    The company recognizes the desire from its employees and those that enforce the policies also have those desires themselves so it will get better but the move will be slow
    and cautious as to not sacrifice security, etc.

    Sorry for the grammar/rambling!

    Keep posting 🙂

    • JamieLeighTO
      May 7, 2012 / 9:49 pm

       Those are some great points, Billy. I love that someone working in IT for a *huge* corporation chimed in.

      It did come across as if I took the restrictions personally. I kind of do. Being granted a 10 minute quote per day for personal internet use just tells me that the concern is no longer security, but lack of trust. I guess I’m just sick of the fact that people who would gladly sit on Facebook all day are fighting for and keeping jobs with me. I think that if you are getting your work done and meeting deadlines there should be no problem with logging in to check your messages every now and then.

      The real pain is when I’m given a task that involves performing some internet searches as part of an investigation and not being able to access it anywhere within the office.

      Which sites are blocked at your office?

  2. May 8, 2012 / 11:50 am

    I 100% agree.

    We had an intern start last week and I asked her to go through some entries in one of our Facebook campaigns to pick out some stellar contestants. Her reaction: “but everyone will think I’m on Facebook.” This kind of threw me off. I’ve always worked in open, non-restricted workplaces and have never been scared of being ‘caught’ on Facebook. Lucky for me,  Facebook is a big part of my job. She made me realize how lucky I am to work in social media and to have made going to these sites (even if it’s on behalf of a client) my job.

    My roommate, however, told me a few weeks ago that she only has the opportunity to check Facebook and Twitter once or twice a day. It’s probably the nature of my job, but without Facebook and Twitter, I feel like I would much less productive and that I’d be learning less. New media is something that most professionals should be aware of, and not just for those who work in SM.

    I can’t imagine what it would be like to work somewhere that restricts me from social sites. I expect I would take a lot more walks and much longer bathroom breaks with my cellphone! Maybe I’d even take up smoking (not really). 10 minutes/day in 2 minute intervals? You’re right it’s offensive.

    • JamieLeighTO
      May 9, 2012 / 11:21 am

       I guess I’m not surprised why my workplace would block social sites. They are overly concerned with privacy and are generally slow to change as society does. It’s the nature of the industry unfortunately.

      That being said, I freelance and work part-time in social and manage to stay off the sites during work hours. Occasionally when an emergency pops up I have to duck into the bathroom with my smartphone for two minutes to sort it out. I don’t think I would be on any of the sites much more even if they were unblocked because I spend my unpaid lunch hour checking up on everything and taking care of anything urgent. Even if the sites were unblocked, I have enough respect for my workplace that I wouldn’t spend time on any of the social sites because I made a decision to take up other opportunities after 5pm.

      Hopefully one day I’ll work in social F/T and not have to worry about fun-blockers and internet quota time, but for now I’ll just rant via my blog 🙂 And be thankful I have a job at all!

  3. May 10, 2012 / 12:31 pm

    Jamie, you’re SO right. Confidence in your employees is one of the top things that we learned in PR class. Personally, coming from several organizations where employee loyalty was pushed more than anything else, I see this as one of the best ways you, as an organization, can ensure that your employees are happy and will fight for you and the organization. 

    To me, any failure of an employee is in part due to both the manager and the organization’s policies.

    Anita