Louise looks at internet usage in the workplace and what policies employers should have in place to protect themselves and their employees.
It’s a question that is probably debated worldwide. Having access to the internet, is it a help or a hindrance? In 2013, 36 million adults in Great Britain accessed the internet daily, a staggering 20 million more than in 2006. With new technology allowing people internet access “on the go” it’s not surprising that using a mobile phone to access the internet has almost doubled between 2010 and 2013. The introduction of the 4G network and various Wi-Fi hotspots will no doubt contribute to this rise. But what does this mean for internet use in the workplace?
Most employers will have an internet usage policy and a mobile phone policy that will cover such usage, but how far should the employer go? Is it ok to ban internet usage completely? Research published in 2013 actually showed that restricting internet access completely resulted inreducedproductivity.The ethos behind this was that the energy used to combat will-power was counterproductive to the energy used to complete the task at hand. Those people allowed access to internet during a break in the task performed better than those who were restricted access.
Whilst this in an indicator to employers to allow their staff access to the internet, this does not mean that unlimited access is recommended. There is a balance between allowing your staff some freedom and flexibility but protecting yourself from potential breaches of data protection and wrongdoing in the workplace, not to mention hours wasted by scrolling the newsfeeds of Facebook!
What to include in your policies
It is important to set clear guidelines when you allow employees access to the internet in the workplace, or on a work device. Whilst everyone is entitled to a degree of privacy, an employer has a duty to provide a safe system of work and protect their employee’s health and safety. In some cases, an employer could be held liable for their employee’s actions and so clear restrictions as to what is and isn’t acceptable offers some protection.
The contents of this policy much depends on your business, the devices used and whether internet usage is required as part of the job. There isn’t a set of rules that will apply to every company or even every role within that company. Instead it’s recommended you look carefully at providing practical and realistic guidance to staff. Whether this is detailed in their staff handbook or provided in office training is down to preference but having a written policy available for all to see is recommended to avoid any disputes that may arise.
Access to social network sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, is becoming more acceptable in the workplace as more companies want to establish their brand and reputation online. In 2013 over half of adults participated in social networking, up from 45% in 2012. However, this isn’t limited to the younger population; whilst it’s unsurprising that 93% of people aged 16-32 used social networking sites, 50% of people aged 45-54 admitted to using the sites also.
The case of a worker in 2003 causing immeasurable professional embarrassment by uploading onto his blog a picture of Apple Mac PCs being delivered to a Microsoft office is a cautionary tale to us all. It is important to ensure that access to the company’s social networking account is restricted to authorised personnel only. Similarly, it’s essential to provide guidance to your staff on what is acceptable to post on social networking sites. In an era where pictures and comments can go viral in a matter of hours, the general message to get across to employees is that if they don’t want their boss or even their colleagues to see it, don’t do it! What can start as an innocent vent could result in disciplinary action being taken on the basis that the post has brought the organisation into disrepute.
The right to monitor your workforce
So you have implemented an internet policy, given sufficient training to staff and ensured that certain websites and activities cannot be carried out in your workplace. Have you done everything you can do? Whilst arguably there should always be a degree of trust in the workplace, it is acceptable to monitor internet and e-mail use. Whether this is by way of spot checks, filters in e-mails of “dangerous” words or internet traffic programs, it is important that the staff are made aware that they are being monitored. Arguably, simple knowledge that your employers can monitor and see what you are doing on the internet will reduce the risk significantly.
Short of restricting internet access there is no guarantee that this right won’t be abused but as always, having a comprehensive and detailed policy setting out the standard of expected behaviour will assist in managing that risk.