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Big brother is definitely watching

February 10 2013 - With as much as 60 to 80 percent of employee time on the Internet having nothing to do with work, organizations are facing an epidemic of 'cyberloafing.'

A study by Joseph Ugrin, assistant professor of accounting at Kansas State University, and John Pearson, associate professor of management at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, has concluded that organization policies are ineffective at stopping office workers from wasting time at work and that sanctions need to be consistently enforced to have an effect.

The study to be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior highlights the lost productivity resulting from cyberloafing like shopping online and updating their Facebook statuses, and potential legal trouble companies when employees indulge in illegal activity or unacceptable behavior such as viewing pornography on office computers.

There are positive benefits from Internet access like improved communication but organizations have trouble addressing cyberloafing, Ugrin said. Companies spend time, money and effort trying to:

  • monitor computer usage
  • detect what employees are doing online, and
  • write policies for employees on acceptable Internet behavior

The study looked at office workers and university students and found that both older and younger subjects have ways of wasting time on the Internet but those ways are different. According to Joseph Ugrin:

"Older people are doing things like managing their finances, while young people found it much more acceptable to spend time on social networking sites like Facebook."

While threats of dismissal and detection mechanisms can be effective at deterring staff from viewing pornography, managing personal finances and personal shopping, policies need to be enforced to discourage personal emailing and social networking. Ugrin said:

"We found that that for young people, it was hard to get them to think that social networking was unacceptable behavior. Just having a policy in place did not change their attitudes or behavior at all. Even when they knew they were being monitored, they still did not care."

The authors found that providing people with information about other employees who were reprimanded was the only way to change attitudes but that strategy could rebound lower morale. According to Ugrin:

"People will feel like Big Brother is watching them, so companies need to be careful when taking those types of action."

Adding that the study allows questions for further research, Joseph Ugrin consluded:

"We don't want to make everyone at work upset because the corporate office is watching over their employees' shoulders," he said, "but what if workers are wasting all of their time online? Where's the balance?"

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