Be Careful How You Use Your Work Computer; Working It Out

For the last 3 years, I’ve had conversations with managers who were frustrated by employee misuse of computers. At first it was Facebook and some employees are instinct with games. Many employees would begin the work day with a quick open up of Facebook. Throughout the day, they would repeatedly launch this social networking site and do inappropriate activities.

These frustrated managers have taken different approaches to dealing with blocking many such sites with firewall/router level blockage. They had all computers stripped of all games. Others offered a “before or after work” policy. Employees have permission to browse personal or play computer games any time they aren’t on the business time clock. Entertaining while on the clock results in disciplinary action.

Other managers have changed their approach to not monitoring computer use; they’ve chosen to focus on productivity. Their approach is to ignore employee entertainment as long as an employee is getting the work done. If the employee feels entertainment as a way to relieve stress and get the work done, no problem.

While employee behavior remains a frustration for some managers, a different, more serious kind of misuse is being discussed now. The solutions and consequences are also more serious. Last week, a handful of employees were fired from jobs they loved for using the Internet access to visit porn sites on the Web. No one saw them visit the sites. No manager walked by, saw the screen and acted on that information. No one had to. But many corporate companies has the software in place to monitor computer use and they do monitor. The software tracks every Website employees visit. On a scheduled basis, a search is conducted, using key words, to identify who has been to inappropriate sites. The most recent review confirmed these employees had made repeated visits to porn sites. None could claim the visits were accidental. The employees were terminated. Some were at the management level.

Some may be really accidental as in today’s internet world is mostly infected with adware by some black hat programmers. These adware redirect to porn ads or porn sites and is usually installed hidden on your computer. Here you have to be careful that, these adware programs are bundled with other free software that you download off of the Internet. Unfortunately, some free downloads do not adequately disclose that other software will also be installed and you may find that you have installed adware without your knowledge.

Once this malicious program is installed on your work computer, whenever you will browse the Internet, unwanted or dirty advertisements will pop-up on web pages that you visit. So be cautious with whatever installations you are trying to install. Most times, these level has been blocked by system administrators such stopping installation of new software.

My first question upon hearing of the situation was, “How do you go home and tell your spouse you were fired for visiting a porn site while at work?”

Companies also reviewing Internet visits to popular sites that are unrelated to work, such as shopping sites. It’s likely that this information will be considered in promotion opportunities, performance evaluations, productivity reviews and, perhaps, discussions about continued employment.

One of my clients has the software called ActivTrak (for e.g.) in place to do “screen captures.” They use it. Snapshots of the computer screens are taken throughout the day for every set of cyclic time. A recent review of the screen captures revealed unethical use of the company’s resources on company time. As with the first situation, there will be consequences.

Companies are also monitoring use of e-mail. Using company resources to broadcast uplifting stories, joke and pictures of one’s travel or children is noted. Depending on the company, the consequences range from a notice to the employee’s file to termination. That note is, again, enough to influence promotion opportunities, performance evaluations, productivity reviews and salary increases.

I know that many have held the belief that their personal use of company computers is minor or stress relieving. It’s more than that now. It’s a monitored activity that can stall or derail otherwise promising careers and fulfilling jobs. The simplest way to protect yourself and your job is to completely abstain from using office computers for anything remotely personal or non-trusted software applications. So be careful with your work computer on it’s usage.