Before the internet, business technology was often exploited for personal
use – but it provided few opportunities for entertainment. The web has changed
Now office systems give staff access to shopping, sport, gambling, game
playing and so-called adult entertainment. And, as our survey shows, many staff
have extended their interest in pornography into office hours.
The principle behind banning porn at work is a no-brainer: it is never
appropriate for staff to download material which could cause offence to other
employees. Offensive material, and racist content falls into this category too,
can damage the reputation of the company and leave the employer open to legal
action. And when staff break the law the employer must take disciplinary
The challenge for HR departments is the sheer scale of internet abuse. It
shows that it is not enough to have water-tight policies – HR must also
communicate these regularly to staff. The emphasis should be on prevention
rather than policing, but those who continue to breach policy do need to be
Motor giant Ford took a sensible approach in March this year when it gave
staff a two-week amnesty to remove offensive material from business systems,
and also gave instructions on how to delete downloaded files.
There are times when personal use of the company’s business systems is
reasonable – some HR teams actively encourage staff to use the internet for
online shopping as a way to boost the use of e-HR, for example. In these cases,
HR must strike a balance between ensuring good levels of productivity on the
one hand, and helping employees balance the demands of work and home on the other.
But where porn and racist material is concerned, HR’s job is clear cut: it
must get the message across loud and clear that downloading offensive material
will not be tolerated.