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1. Executive summary
The desire to keep browsing through pages in the web while at work represents the biggest distraction for workers. This leads to a lot of wastage in terms of time and resources that could have been used to a better use in the office.
It has been found that a third of the workers in areas with inappropriate surfing spend at least 25 minutes on the internet personal reasons in a day. Some surveys have shown that over 82 percent of interviewed workers admit to have spent work time doing personal surfing such sending personal emails and chatting over the internet.
Among the most visited sites, sporting, gaming, shopping, auction, instant messaging, pornography/sexual content, blogging and social media feature the most. This is perhaps because these sites have features such as communication and entertainment that are becoming more popular with the modern world embracing the internet more and more in completing tasks.
To curb this problem, employers should not ask employees to use their own will to resist from using the internet when they are within its reach since this will not work. Instead, it will make them less productive and might lead to mistakes in their subsequent tasks. They should remove internet access completely, allow access to only specified websites or allow the employees to access the internet during scheduled time periods, much like tea breaks or cigarette breaks in addition to other alternatives such as allowing the workers to listen to music while working.
Managers are increasingly getting concerned with the number of working hours spent surfing the net that do not contribute to the productivity of the organization. More companies are increasingly becoming aware of the cost of business associated with the personal use of the internet by their workers especially in terms of the legal risks it attracts. These costs often come in the form of lawsuits, staffing expenses after firing culprits who go against company policy on internet use as well as the cost of putting in place and maintaining control measures that guard against internet misuse. This has prompted them to institute numerous programs in order to discourage the habit so as to increase the workers concentration on business related tasks alone.
The use of control measures by companies against personal surfing must be exercised with sensitivity to the ethical issues that surround it. Whilst the organization is concerned with the safeguarding important information that it holds in its databases, the employees have an interest in their personal privacy which could potentially be breached by such programs. Courts have consistently supported the use of monitoring procedures on internet use in organizations but only on ethical grounds and with the interest of the business as the motive.
The need to monitor the way the employees use the internet is usually motivated by the organizations’ interest to stay productive with an attractive return on investment. In doing this the organization should first come up with a policy that specifies what is internet use and what is internet abuse, circulate this policy to every member of the organization, evaluate the organization to identify existing internet misuse cases, put in place control measures to discourage this practice and finally constitute a procedure for continued monitoring and maintenance for this program so that a culture of responsible and accountable use of the internet is cultivated amongst workers.
2. Descriptive summary of the issue
The fact the internet serves billions of people around the world makes it so popular. Its advantages far outweigh its disadvantages. This is because it has several features that make it easier and convenient to use. It is a widely accessible form of communication and at cheaper rates for those who subscribe. Not only is the internet present all over the world but it also is rapid on a global scale in terms of communication. Users have the convenience to use a variety of channels through its integrated multimedia entertainment that other mass media cannot afford to offer. All these features make the internet the most vulnerable to abuse since so many people can access it.
One such abuse has been the use of the internet in the office. Workers use the internet for personal reasons such as e-mailing friends, playing online games, entertainment such watching video clips online and listening to music, shopping for holidays and items on offer on the net, blogging, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and so on. These has led to the organization losing billions of dollars in trying to meet the costs resulting from risks associated with these activities as well as coming up with control programs to safeguard the organization’s push for a safe work environment as well as protect their assets.
For an organization, it is therefore paramount to institute measures to curb this misuse and ensure risks that come from such practices are minimized.
3. Descriptions of the problem revolving around the issue
In an ideal world, all the activities undertaken during official working hours should be related to the core business of the office. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Just like the case of other office resources such as telephone, company vehicles and photocopier machines, the internet together with emailing have fallen prey to misuse in the office.
The following statistics show to what extent the internet has been used by the average worker for personal use:
- Thirty to forty percent of the uses to which the internet is put to is unrelated to the core purpose of the organization- IDC research.
- 70 percent of the traffic from porn sites occurs between 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening which are official working hours- Sex Tracker survey.
- 37 percent of the workers interviewed in a study done by Vault.com admitted to surfing the internet constantly during working hours for personal reasons rather than the business for which they should use the internet for.
- Most US companies spend about $1 billion dollars annually in covering cost associated with internet misuse from their own office PCs.
In addition to these statistics, companies have found themselves facing numerous challenges as a result of personal internet browsing during office hours. The following are just a few of the challenges:
- A lot of time and hence the productivity of workers is lost in the process of surfing the web during official business hours since they these are company hours that should have added to the overall production equation of the company in that day.
- Personal internet contributes to the problem of internet clogs since they add to the traffic causing it, in addition to limiting bandwidths.
- The company is exposed to internet risks such as hackers and other harmful applets who may enter the organizations’ networks when employees visit unsecured websites.
- Legal consequences when such misuse of the corporate internet attracts dangerous material that is introduced into the business environment.
It can be clearly seen that the overall effect of inappropriate use of the internet is damaging to the enterprise’s productivity since it reduces its net revenue, increases costs, and exposes the organization to unwarranted legal consequences. Internet misuse can be a great cost to doing business nowadays if not controlled.
4. Analysis and recommendations
i. Corporate issues
Due to the risks and costs that come with internet surfing for personal reasons by employees, internet monitoring by corporate institutions is one of the emerging issues. The number of organizations monitoring the internet has gradually increased, with more companies using various methods to find out what their employees use the internet for in the workplace. Studies have revealed that companies monitor emails, block websites, tap phone calls, use GPS tracking, as well as policies in an effort to manage the productivity of the workers and the internet while minimizing risks at the same time.
The basic concern for most companies is the inappropriate web surfing while at work, with over 66 percent monitoring the internet for connections that are not related to their business. 65 percent of the companies use some software to block internet connections they deem inappropriate. Other practices involve the use of blocks on specific URLs in order to discourage employees from accessing external blogs.
Most of the sites that are involved in inappropriate web surfing include:
- Sites with romantic, pornographic or sexual content
- Games sites
- Entertainment sites
- Online auction, investing and gambling sites
- Sports sites
- Shopping online sites
- Instant messaging sites
- Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter
There is a controversy involving the interests of the individuals in the organization and those of the organization itself. The organization is interested in keeping its environment risk-free and safe by safeguarding its information while the individual is concerned with his/her privacy when using the organization’s internet to surf the web. The courts have consistently supported the organizations’ right to monitor the activities that are carried out in their workplaces for business interests. This has lead to the businesses increasingly becoming more and more aggressive in guarding their corporate resources from costs associate with personal web surfing by individuals. The numbers show that over 28 percent have fired employees who have been found to misuse email while 33 percent have done so over grounds of internet misuse.
Despite the many advantages of monitoring the use of the internet by workers, there are a number of disadvantages that come with this. For instance, workers might not like the idea of their bosses looking over their shoulders to see what they are doing. They might feel that the employers do not trust them and thus lower their morale and enthusiasm to work, a fact which could significantly reduce their productivity contradicting the motive for monitoring in the first place. Monitoring programs require financing. This might represent a very high cost to the company thus affecting its returns in revenues. Such monitoring plans can only be feasible in organizations that deal with large-scale proprietary activities or whose core business is politically sensitive.
ii. Summary of the issue and other related concerns
For some time now, the management has debated between instituting chances in the organizations that monitor how workers use the internet or let workers manage themselves in fighting the temptation of using the internet for non-business matters. Some organizations, through the consistent support of the courts, have put in place measures to monitor the actions of misbehaving employees. The courts support institutions for such ventures only when it is for business reasons. By legitimate, the following have often formed the fundamental yardsticks:
- Those measures that are aimed at reducing business costs
- Measures to ensure company information such as trade secrets remain secure
- Measures aimed at maintaining a safe and professional work environment
- Measures aimed at upholding the organization’s ethics and social responsibility principles
- Measures to reduce the liability on the organization
Whilst the above are considered as ethical and legal, the following reasons for internet monitoring are considered unethical and therefore not supported as reasons for monitoring internet use:
- Targeting a certain employee for the wrong reasons such as termination or victimization
- Breaching the privacy of employees by, for example, viewing their personal data that is not related to work
- Selfish or personal motives
- When applying personal ethical standards rather than business procedures on morally and ethics.
The principal advantage of monitoring the use of internet by workers while at work is to safeguard the enterprise’s assets. This is because these items form an important part in the business operations and represent a loss or even some legal consequences if they are lost or damaged.
In curbing the habit of surfing the web instead of doing tasks for which the employees were hired for, the management should first establish a policy outlining what it considers appropriate and inappropriate use of the internet as well as the e-mail. This way, employees will be in the know of what they are required to do while in the business premises regarding internet use. E-mails sent from the company’s office PCs could cost the company since it results into spam in addition to exposing the company to a lot of legal issues. Moreover, employees might send slanderous sentiments to outside recipients over the company’s instant messaging or e-mail system that could potential put the company at risk. By monitoring employees’ internet use using policy guidelines, the company is able to identify and punish only the culprits who go against the set policy instead of taking global action that affects the entire organization. This is why a policy is needed for all company employees.
After coming up with the policy, circulate it among the employees and let them know that their privacy while on the business internet is their own to take care of. This way the company is equipped with the ability to monitor every task that the employee does online in order to avoid the habit of employees getting involved in activities that exposes the organization to legal consequences such as law suits from sexual harassment cases. Depending of the industry in which the company is, some monitoring techniques that restrict the access of employees on case-by-case basis or on site-by-site have proved effective in saving the company a lot from wasted resources on the internet for non-business matters.
In addition, the company needs to protect its productivity levels by ensuring that the internet at the workplace is safe. If the business’ internet were to be infected by malware, the business’ operations would be adversely interfered with. Such interference could cause losses in the form of sales, delay in processing orders, and breakdown in the supply chain among other losses. It could also compromise the data in the company leading to legal repercussions, especially when it involves private and personal information which was stored in company databases. It is generally more expensive to fix problems such as lawsuits and long periods of business breakdowns caused by employees’ activities on the internet than monitoring such activities.
After a policy is in place and known to every employee, the organization should conduct and audit and evaluation exercise to determine whether internet misuse actually exists in its network. This is often done by analyzing the traffic that comes through the web that is related to the business and determining how much of it is personal. This will reveal the extent to which the internet is used for matters other that its intended purposes. Taking appropriate action to discourage the habit of web surfing at this stage will let employees know that they need to work and that whatever they do online is being monitored. Employees who know these are likely to work more thus hours will translate to increased productivity as well as considerable cost savings and an increased return on investment of the company.
If the company wants to keep employees off the internet altogether, it is recommended that they consider allowing employees to use alternatives such as listening to music while working. They could also set up a time schedule that allows employees to use the internet for personal matters. This will gradually shape the culture of the organization to a level where workers use their own willpower to resist the distractions that come from browsing the web when they should be doing company work. This culture is usually based on norms and behaviors as spelt out in the written company policy regarding internet use.
If problems are found in the company that results from the use of internet inappropriately, the company could deploy a program that monitors the internet activities with the capability to block access t o questionable websites. Such software programs include SpyTech, eBlaster and Websense. Some of the applications in these software programs filter e-mail, while some block access to websites that are listed as a no go in the company policy. In addition the company can also selectively control access to certain ‘classes’ of sites such as shopping, social, or sports sites. This can greatly reduce the exposure to the company to legal risks.
Finally, the company can hammer home its policy each time a user logs on to their network to serve as a reminder that their actions while on the net are being monitored and that accountability and responsibility are required in the course of their work on the net. This is done by using a system which presents a dialogue box to users when logging in with a brief summary of the policy and which requires the m to enter their particular log in details for accountability purposes.
In general, whatever solution arrived at by the company as a measure to control the use of the internet in the workplace, it must be monitored throughout and stringently maintained for it to be effective.
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