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Battling The Cyber-Slackers

» Posted on: 1 September 2007
» Posted by: Oliver McCann
» Service area: Employment

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The temptation is simply too much for many employees with access to the internet, to catch up with old friends, to check how their bid on Ebay is doing or to select their fantasy football team.

Cyberslacking continues to dominate the news as employers face an increasing battle, trying to curb their employees time-wasting web surfing and emailing their friends.

There is no doubt that the problem can have a significant impact on efficiency and production – indeed the estimated cost to UK employers is over £1.5bn and it’s increasing yearly.

How many times do you walk in to the office to find a worker busily clicking away on their mouse or frantically typing – yet one look at the bottom of the screen often reveals minimised personal email messages or web pages.

The dramatic growth of online community websites attract employees to surf more and for longer periods of time. Take for example the sites “Facebook” (with 34m users worldwide and now the tenth most popular website in the world) and “Myspace” (200m users worldwide and 230,000 new users every day) – their incredible popularity has resulted in many employers prohibiting employees from visiting these sites due to the amount of time spent on them when they should be working. In fact, some employees have admitted spending up to 5 or 6 hours a day on such sites and the impact this can have on a work force cannot be underestimated. In the face of such action from employers, the TUC has recently urged employers to continue to allow their employees to use Facebook but only whilst on breaks or during the lunch hour rather than introducing a complete ban.

So What Should You Do?
It is a difficult balance to strike for employers – trusting employees to use the internet for personal reasons on breaks only is ideal but not always that simple to administer.

The fact of the matter is that the computer system is the employer’s property and if you choose you can impose a complete ban on using the computer systems for anything other than business use including during breaks. The advantage is that your employees know what is allowed and what isn’t – whilst the disadvantage is that employees resent such an inflexible approach which in turn can reduce morale and increase absence issues and inefficiency.

Most employers allow use of the computer systems during recognised breaks, but this can become difficult to monitor and control – especially when there are no set time for breaks/lunch. It is however perhaps the best solution as long as clear rules are in place.

Be conscious however, that as workers work longer hours than ever the less leisure time they have to sort out personal/family affairs which can often be dealt with over the internet or by email. The knowledge that they can complete everyday tasks online during breaks in work is likely to reduce absenteeism and increase efficiency.

Whatever your stance the key is to have a clear written Email and Internet Policy setting out clear boundaries as to what is acceptable and what is not. This can cover when the systems can be used for personal use, what websites are forbidden, what language or content should be used or avoided in emails, avoidance of cyber-bullying etc.

There should also be reference to the disciplinary sanctions that may be imposed as a result of breaching the policy and, if you intend to monitor emails or internet use, details as to how that monitoring will take place. Remember the Human Rights Act 1998 may give protection to workers in relation to their right to privacy.

Modern technology has created a host of issues for employers to deal with and it is crucial that you have a detailed policy in place tailored to your specific business needs.

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