According to a news release issued by the university, a Kansas State University study to be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior concludes that between 60 and 80% of the time spent by people on the internet at work has "nothing to do with work." The study, which was profiled this morning on The Today Show, suggests that "cyberloafers" come in all ages. According to one of the researchers, "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."

Certainly, while the estimated percentage might be unexpectedly high to some, there is no doubt that workers are spending more time on the internet for personal reasons. The study goes on to note that employer electronic monitoring policies do little to change behaviors unless the policies are enforced. According to the news release announcing the study, "Researchers discovered that the only way to change people’s attitudes is to provide them with information about other employees who were reprimanded."

The question I have is whether enforcement of these policies really discourages employees from surfing the web or whether it merely drives the behavior underground. My bet is that many – I won’t say most – employees who fear discipline as a result of electronic monitoring at work will simply resort to using their personal electronic devices, which the employer will not be able to monitor. In my mind, the best way for an employer to ensure that workers are actually working is to monitor their actual work performance, both quantity and quality, and in the process it will catch most, if not all of its cyberloafers.

I’m not suggesting that electronic monitoring policies are bad or even ineffective; just don’t ask them to cure more problems than they are capable of doing. Indeed, such policies are invaluable in making sure that employees are not accessing pornography or other material at work that may subject an employer to liability. These policies also can help prevent trade secret leakage or outright misappropriation. But to think that enforcing these policies, without more, will deter most employees from shopping on or checking for the latest trade rumor in my opinion is a bit naïve and maybe even somewhat counterproductive.

Even the researchers noted that the strategy can have negative consequences in the workplace and can lower morale. Indeed, in many work environments where employees are one dinner time cell phone call away from being back on the clock, it is not entirely unreasonable to think that some employees will conduct some personal business while at work. In addition, some studies have suggested that occasional personal use of the internet while at work might help recharge employees’ batteries and keep them more focused on their jobs.

I’m all for enforcing electronic monitoring policies at work; let’s just not ask them to do too much. Now, if you don’t mind, there is this set of golf clubs that I saw on the internet last night….

Brian Hall