Look Who's Watching: Employee Monitoring Becoming Standard Practice

E-Policy is Prevalent
Concern over litigation and the growing role of electronic evidence in legal investigations means that more employers are implementing electronic technology policies. Among companies surveyed:

84% have policies governing personal email use.

81% have policies for personal Internet use.

42% have policies for personal instant messenger use.

34% have policies for use of personal Web sites on company time.

23% have policies for personal postings on corporate blogs.

20% have policies for use of personal blogs on company time.

n=526; source: "The 2005 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey," the American Management Association

The Need for Flexibility

While tight controls seem to work at Deseret and Monro Muffler, they aren't for every company. Strict blocking can create a backlash at companies with highly skilled or hard-to-find employees. "Let's face it," says Manny Avramidis, senior vice president for global human resources at AMA, "at some companies, Internet surfing is a perk."

"If an employer is going to draw absolute lines, you run the risk of the employee saying, 'If I can't check my travel site at eight in the morning when I'm having my coffee, then I'll come in at nine, take my lunch breaks and leave at five.' In a tough market, . . . employers have to know when to bend."

Organizations typically choose categories of sites to block; the software filtering vendor determines and updates the list of sites that fall into those categories. Besides the sinful six, categories include those that detract from worker productivity or pose security risks, such as shopping or auction sites.

Yet depending on what your business is, categorically blocking sites can be problematic. Take sites with information on breast feeding, for example, which often fall into the sinful six, because their content or URLs contain the word "breast." But at a hospital, having access to a site that mentions breasts or other anatomical parts is, for obvious reasons, absolutely necessary.

At Potomac Hospital, Tony Davis ran into this problem when he deployed eTelemetry Inc.'s software that blocks the sinful six. The manager of network systems had to turn certain sites back on so they wouldn't be blocked. "Maternal health is the exception in the firewall," he says.

Davis' decision on what sites to block was "based on the needs of the network and the hospital." The nonprofit community hospital serves three counties in Virginia with 153 patient beds; its network supports 1,200 users in a multibuilding campus environment.

Some sites are clearly off limits, but that doesn't stop particularly zealous users from doing their best to convince him otherwise. But he doesn't get many comments, because it's hard to complain about not having access to something that isn't business related.

Davis laughs, "What are they going to say, 'Hey, I can't monkey around at work'?"

This was first published in January 2007

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