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By now, you've probably seen the strands of a survey by the AMA floating around the Internet, suggesting that most employers are terminating people based on their use of the Internet.  In case you haven't seen the study, let me save you some time by offering up the clips you need to know.

"The 28% of employers who have fired workers for e-mail misuse did so for the following reasons:Cops  violation of any company policy (64%); inappropriate or offensive language (62%); excessive personal use (26%); breach of confidentiality rules (22%); other (12%).

The 30% of bosses who have fired workers for Internet misuse cite the following reasons: viewing, downloading, or uploading inappropriate/offensive content (84%); violation of any company policy (48%); excessive personal use (34%); other (9%).

Employers are primarily concerned about inappropriate Web surfing, with 66% monitoring Internet connections. Fully 65% of companies use software to block connections to inappropriate Websites—a 27% increase since 2001 when AMA/ePolicy Institute first surveyed electronic monitoring and surveillance policies and procedures. Employers who block access to the Web are concerned about employees visiting adult sites with sexual, romantic, or pornographic content (96%); game sites (61%); social networking sites (50%); entertainment sites (40%); shopping/auction sites (27%); and sports sites (21%). In addition, companies use URL blocks to stop employees from visiting external blogs (18%)."

So those are the numbers.  Some of it I get and support, but a lot of it smacks of items that are sooo yesterday.

First up, I get that email is a conversation, so any idea and language that you put out there is subject to all the policies that you have in your handbook.  That's good.  Professional conduct, harassment policies, etc. are all applicable to what you put out there in email.  That's the way it should be.  Whether someone gets a warning, or is terminated for email or web browsing related to these items, depends on a lot of factors, such as severity and past history.

Here's my big pain point.  If you are terminating someone for excessive use of the Internet, you probably haven't done your job from a performance management standpoint.  Stop me if you've heard this one before.  Sally's performance is lacking.  Sally's manager comes to you indicating every time he walks by Sally's cube, she's on Facebook.  Sally's manager wants to pull reports for that "gotcha" moment.

Is your next question "How's Sally's performance?"  Once you're told that the performance is less than stellar, is question number two a derivative of "Tell me about the conversations you have had with Sally about her performance?"

My strong belief - excessive Internet use isn't a policy issue, it's a performance issue.  There's a lot of variability across managers as to the definition of "excessive".  Good luck defending the consistency issues there.

And don't even get me started about the wisdom of blocking entire categories.  Dirty sites are an obvious one, but do you really want to block social networks where you can pick up candidate referrals?  Blogs as an entire category? 

That's crazy talk.  Manage what's "appropriate" in Internet use by managing performance.

Comments

Ask a Manager

I so agree. If excessive Internet use is bad because it affects performance, then deal with the performance issues.

Scott

I agree 100%. I think the policy in the handbook is all that is needed to deal with internet usage at work.

Lisa

It so often seems managers (some) seek to find ways to deal without performance issues without addressing performance issues. Internet usage, wanting to replace employees out on FMLA, trying to create misconduct where it doesn't exist . . . Geesh.

Wally Bock

This post was selected for the Carnival of Human Resources
http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2008/03/18/31908-the-carnival-of-human-resources.aspx

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