Monitoring internet use

DeeDee
Doke looks at why employers should be taking serious steps to monitor the
internet use of their employees

Monitoring
employees’ internet use could become more widespread in the UK as employers
face web-related hazards such as the spread of viruses, meeting governance
compliance legislation and lower workforce productivity stemming from too much
time spent online.

The
DTI is recommending that UK businesses install internet monitoring software, in
a list of suggestions aimed at thwarting staff abuse of the internet.

In
its recently released Information Security Breaches Survey 2004, the DTI
reports that companies logging and monitoring web access reported a higher
incidence of internet abuse, but goes on to say: “This implies that among those
organisations without this control, similar incidents are going undetected.”

Jane
Moorman, a partner in the employment group at City law firm Masons, confirms
that businesses are seriously considering their monitoring options.

The
firm recently ran a series of seminars on employee monitoring, for which 500
people signed up. “Bear in mind, this is just one law firm, and in context, I
think that’s demonstrating a huge amount of interest,” Moorman says.

“The
whole issue of the electronic side of managing people is very important. We’ve
seen statistics which say that a third of dismissals are directly
electronically related. We see it in all kinds of cases,” she says.

A
growing number of software options allow employers a variety of capabilities,
such as knowing how much time individuals spend on the internet, limiting the
time spent on the web, and knowing which sites are visited.

Access
to certain internet services, such as Instant Messaging, can also be limited to
staff in general or to particular people. At least one highly-sophisticated
offering can categorise and cluster communications such as e-mail into which
specific topics are discussed. 

One
major UK employer that is installing software to manage employee internet usage
is Northcliffe Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail and other titles.

For
HR, the message is clear: it must take the lead to develop effective policies
to monitor when a clear business imperative exists to do so, according to Ben
Willmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel
and Development.

And,
he adds, HR must also take on the primary role of making sure that employees
know about and understand the policy.     

“Monitoring
is about common sense, really. If your organisation has a clear business reason
for monitoring, and you can explain that and justify that to employees, it is
likely to be acceptable and understood,” Willmott says.

“You
need to spell out the fact that you have a clear monitoring policy, and
particularly at induction stage, make it clear what the policy is.”

However,
Willmott warns that a ham-fisted approach to monitoring is likely to lead to
such problems as employee stress, poor attitudes towards work and high levels
of absenteeism.

The
DTI’s recommendations for reining in staff abuse of the internet include:


Have a clear policy on what your business considers to be acceptable use of the
internet


Communicate this policy to your staff


Implement software to monitor internet use and block inappropriate websites


Have a clear contingency plan for what to do if an incident arises in your
business


Raise staff awareness of spam and discourage staff from activities that
increase the likelihood of receiving it.

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