Should you track your Employee’s Internet Usage?

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If you’re an employer, you have an incentive to make sure that the time your employees spend at work is productive. But with the internet offering a seemingly endless source of entertainment, the way that your workers behave online could have a significant effect on your bottom line. Data suggest that the average full-time worker is wasting between 90 and 270 minutes per day, much of that online.

Many business owners, therefore, are looking at whether they should track their employees’ internet usage and if it’s a good policy for overall company health.

The Benefits Of Tracking Employees

Since wage costs are your most significant expense, any intervention that reduces time-wasting is going to offer your business substantial benefits. Employees are much less likely to spend hours browsing social media or watching YouTube videos if they know that their activity is being monitored.

There are other benefits too: monitoring allows you to gain insights into where your employees succeeding online, and where they’re struggling. Monitoring employee internet usage could give you an indication of who needs further training and who doesn’t, allowing you to improve your use of funds. Tracking internet usage may also help you achieve increased security, preventing employees from accessing sites that could harm your network.

The Problems Of Tracking Employees

The benefits of employee tracking are clear, but there are some reasons why you might not want to track what your workers are doing online, the main being the effect on morale.

It might seem like the best way to get maximum productivity out of employees is to supervise their internet usage, but if workers feel like they’re being watched continually, that may affect their morale which, in turn, could harm their performance.

You can think about this mathematically. Suppose that an employee with free, unfettered access to the internet generates £1,000 of revenue per week for your firm but wastes five hours per week. You pay the worker £400 per week for 40 hours of work, so if they waste five hours, it costs you £50 in unproductive time. That sounds bad, but if your internet monitoring affects worker morale, then that may impact their performance, and they may only generate £800 of revenue per week, making you £200 worse off.

There’s also an ethical issue: should employers be able to monitor all of a person’s interactions online? Watching everything that an employee does on the web seems to cross a barrier that employers wouldn’t ordinarily go over in real life. Bosses don’t eavesdrop on conversations that workers have with their partners or follow them around supermarkets, writing down what they buy. But this is effectively what’s going on when an employer starts tracking internet usage at work. It might seem like a good idea, and you might think it’s your prerogative as the owner of the computer network, but it represents a profound invasion of privacy which wouldn’t be acceptable in other contexts.

It’s also worth pointing out that internet monitoring probably won’t be effective in preventing time-wasting anyway. If an employee knows that you are monitoring their every move on work computers, they will just switch over to their mobile devices and use a separate network. Thus, an internet monitoring policy won’t necessarily provide you with the result you want: less time-wasting. Instead, it will just displace it. Employees will move to the next best alternative.

You could try to ban all mobile devices in the workplace, but then we really are in a Dickensian nightmare scenario. Not only will your employees be cut off from their contacts, but your reputation as an employer will fall: people don’t want to be without their mobile devices and will feel intruded upon by the company. Morale will inevitably suffer.

What about legal stuff? Are there legal issues for monitoring?

There are legal guidelines for employers when it comes to monitoring. If you do decide to monitor, then you need to have written policies in place. Your tracking should be proportional to the situation and justified. And your staff need to be told how long you’ll keep any data you collect.

The best way to justify monitoring is to claim that it helps “safeguard” employees. You may need to monitor employee activities online to keep them safe and protect company assets.

So what have we learned? The main takeaway is that employee monitoring is a bit of a minefield, and by implementing it, you may end up with some unintended consequences. What you want ideally are uninhibited workers who feel great about coming to work and creating value. Draconian internet policies may put that at risk.

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