Surfing on the Clock May Come Back to Haunt You

by Laura Merrill, Manager of Cooperative Education

While some companies are starting to ban employee internet access to prevent non-work-related surfing, others are actually building portals through which their employees can access the web. So what should you do? The key to safe surfing is to know your company’s internet-usage policy and to stick by it. In a corporate environment, the guidelines may be stringent; in a casual environment, maybe not.

If you think your internet usage is undetectable, think again. In her article entitled, “Web Surfing at Work? It Could Cost You Money,” Tory Johnson, workplace contributor to “Good Morning America,” found that 80% of employers are monitoring their employees’ internet usage. No biggie? Not so. It means your employer can read your personal emails and instant messages, and s/he can see the sites you’ve visited on any given day. So when you send an email or instant message, make sure you’d be okay with your grandmother reading it.

And what kinds of sites are employees visiting? A 2005 survey by Websense, Inc. (the world’s leading provider of employee internet management solutions) found that the most commonly visited sites were news (81%), personal email (61%), online banking (58%), travel (56%), and shopping (52%). The Websense survey also found that listening to or watching streaming media and using instant messaging are the most popular computer applications used on company time. (“Surfing the Web at Work May Be as Addictive as a Cup of Joe.”) These activities can affect productivity and clog the company’s bandwidth.

These aren’t the only sites employees are visiting. In her article “As Crucial as Coffee: Web Surfing at Work”, Deborah Rothberg cited a survey that found that either accidentally or intentionally, 12% of employees had visited porn sites on the clock (“Web@Work: General Trends in Internet Surfing,” [a 2006 Websense survey]). Not only is viewing porn at work inappropriate, it could lead to charges of sexual harassment if someone else in your office sees the porn on your monitor.

Seasoned professionals may get away with surfing on the job if they’ve proven themselves capable of balancing their work and personal time, but you’re a newbie. As such, you’ll want to put your best foot forward and ensure your boss has a positive perception of you.

Tory Johnson put it clearly: “Your personal [internet] usage should be periodic, not persistent.”

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