Plug in to good connections

PUBLISHED: 12:58 09 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:20 06 May 2010

FANCY a spot of internet shopping while the boss s back is turned? Or the odd 10 minutes here and there to email all your mates and arrange a night out? Only total angels could legitimately hold their hands up and say they had never been tempted to make

FANCY a spot of internet shopping while the boss's back is turned? Or the odd 10 minutes here and there to email all your mates and arrange a night out?

Only total angels could legitimately hold their hands up and say they had never been tempted to make the most of their online connections at work.

But although we're all perfectly well aware that this sort of thing doesn't exactly count as model employee behaviour, it looks like bosses have finally decided to put their foot down and get tough.

A total of 2,646 employers, from various industries across the UK, were asked by employment law consultancy Peninsula about their attitudes and policies on IT use and abuse.

The results were eye-opening, with the vast majority - 84 per cent - saying that they discipline workers over the inappropriate use of email and the internet.

This compares to just 65 per cent back in 2005, suggesting that, in the eyes of company chiefs, the odd spot of surfing is no longer an acceptable way to spend time in the office.

Figures also reveal that 66 per cent of employers have an email or internet policy in place compared to just 34 per cent who don't.

Again, this differs from 12 months ago, when only 52 per cent of those quizzed said they had such policies.

But, if the research is anything to go by, bosses aren't all total stick-in-the-muds. In fact, many of them are willing to turn a blind eye to their team's tendencies to make the most of work's IT facilities at their disposal - as long as it's in their own time.

Indeed, 86 per cent of companies said they let their staff use the internet during breaks or lunch time, compared to 75 per cent in 2005, although 14 per cent are resolutely sticking to their guns and answering 'no' to the same question.

HR expert Claire Gunnell believes these results depict a growing problem in the workplace for employers.

"It's clear that, along with the business requirement for ever advancing IT facilities, the inappropriate use of internet and email facilities during working hours has also increased," she explained.

"Employers are no longer turning a blind eye to workers idling away the day surfing the web and making personal emails."

In a bid to meet this challenge, employers are introducing terms and conditions to curb inappropriate IT use and punish persistent offenders.

But, of course, it's not just 'innocent' things like checking out the local cinema times or emailing your other half to remind them to get milk that could get staff into trouble.

'Inappropriate' also covers a whole host of other activities including looking for and exchanging prohibited images or emails.

Gunnell noted that the result of such behaviour can cause offence to fellow work colleagues and can even amount to bullying and harassment in certain instances.

She added: "Apart from frittering away time in general, pornography and jokes are increasing problems in office emails and an active and effective management policy should be in place to deal with this effectively.

"Not only are these issues having a detrimental effect on productivity but IT resources are also being cluttered with inappropriate emails filling inboxes around the office.

"Employers should ensure policies are in place and raise awareness to these issues whilst reiterating that office computers are not private and are a company resource that should be used responsibly," she continued.

All workers' online activities and emails can be monitored and used as evidence if necessary so quite aside from the fact that you shouldn't be using work time and facilities to 'misbehave', you could also quite easily get caught.

And that could mean your job might be at stake.

As long as a policy is in place and is clearly stated in employee handbooks and guidelines, not being told verbally is no defence for breaking the rules.

So make sure you know your company's policies and understand what they mean to you as an employee - it could save you your job.

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