A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Personal Use of Business Computers
Dear Sue: I own and run a small company. I have many terrific
employees who are dedicated and hard workers. Every employee has a
computer on his or her desk, and plenty of work to do to occupy their
time. I bought these computers for business use, and am becoming concerned
about the amount of time being spent on personal computer use. I do not
understand how my employees can justify this during work hours. The
computers are mine, not theirs, and are a business tool, and therefore
shouldn’t be used in any other manner.
After doing some investigating to determine just how much time was
being wasted, I was shocked to learn that some people spend hours each day
on non-business related computer use. Sports scores are being checked,
investments are being monitored; some people are shopping for furniture or
clothes and others are just writing to friends. I called a meeting and
told everyone that from now on, the computers are to be used for business
purposes only, and that I do not want any personal e-mailing or Internet
surfing going on. I plan on monitoring their use over the next few months.
You would think that I did something terrible. People are grumbling and
angry, but I stand by my decision. Why should I pay employees who are
supposed to be working for me to have conversations with friends or check
their stocks? Am I wrong? - Frustrated
Sue Says: I can understand your frustration and your desire to
get as much productivity out of each employee as possible. I understand
that these computers belong to you and the business, and should be used
primarily for business purposes, but I do have reservations about you
banning all personal use. If you become too restrictive, employees may
grown more resentful and ultimately lose some of their loyalty and
dedication to you and the business.
Do you allow your employees to use the telephone? After all, I am sure
each employee has a phone on their desk, and probably makes and receives
personal calls. And, if it is infrequent, you probably don’t have a
problem with it. However, if hours were spent on the phone, you would need
to say something, and request that calls be kept to a minimum, but I doubt
you would ban all phone calls.
For many people, e-mail has merely replaced the phone; have you
noticed, perhaps, that employees are using the phone less often, thus
increasing their time on the computer? And if you continue to monitor, do
you distinguish between work time and break time? Is it okay for an
employee to use the computer for personal use during a break? I assume
that the reason your employees are grumbling about this new rule is
because it is very restrictive. It sounds as though you may have
approached this in an authoritative manner, and it is possible that your
employees feel as though they’ve been treated like little children. You
reprimanded them, and then punished them by taking something away. Perhaps
there is some middle ground, and a way to find a happy medium.
I agree, it is inappropriate for employees to be using the computer
during business hours for personal needs, but if it is kept to a minimum,
some use can be allowed. Allowing an employee to send or receive e-mails
is really not much different than allowing an employee to make or receive
If you make things too difficult or restrictive, your employees may
grow resentful and feel as though you are treating them like prisoners;
not a good set up for happy, productive employees.
Now that you have started the dialogue about the personal use of
computers at work, why don’t you collectively see if you can all come up
with a solution? This way you involve everyone in the process of learning
how unproductive internet use can be, and you empower them to come up with
their own solutions. Good luck – let me know what happens.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
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