Workshop: Personal Trainer

A member of staff seems to spend a lot of time surfing the web when he should be working - can I stop him?

It depends! Presumably, you have evidence this is non-work, and if so, how much time does he spend surfing? There is a service that monitors pornography sites and apparently 70 per cent of traffic occurs during work hours - is this what you are getting at?

We're all probably familiar with the example of the recent departure of the Bank of Ireland's chief executive. An audit of company computers discovered that he had been trawling websites advertising call-girls in Las Vegas. This was set against the background of the bank's internet policy that "discouraged" the use of the internet for non-work purposes.

His fall highlights a delicate matter that has been taxing many employers - how to design and enforce staff internet policies. It strikes me that you probably don't have such a policy, so your first step might be to design one.

However, you need to tread a fine line. The position on one side is an employer's right to control how its equipment is used. Against this must be set an employee's right to privacy and their practical need to run their lives when working hours have lengthened.

In fact, the arguments are no different from those about the private use of the phone or, indeed, what constitutes work conversations. Research suggests that excess monitoring of staff can be counterproductive. You are certainly entitled to be as prescriptive as you want to be, including banning all non-work internet use, as long as you communicate this policy carefully to staff.

But is this sensible? And how are you going to check up? There is no point in writing policies that are impossible to apply, and appear mean.

The reality is that staff will want to use the internet sometimes for non-work things - checking a cricket score or finding out train times.

Do you really want to ban this? Mature relationships between an employer and staff must involve trust. This is particularly true in third sector organisations where pay and conditions are hardly over generous!

I think the real issue you have is whether this particular individual's overall work delivery is acceptable or not. Is this just the symptom of general laziness or inattention to work and a failure to deliver targets?

If it is part of a pattern then you need to be monitoring and, in the final analysis, disciplining the person concerned. But tackle the whole problem, not one aspect of it. And sort out your internet policy.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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