Greg Enright: Avert nightmare of cyber-slacking by hiring right staff

Now that the Internet has largely pervaded corporate desktops across Canada, managers are faced with a significantly new wrinkle in the thankless task of managing their staff: cyber-slacking. With a leap into cyberspace just a mouseclick away, employees are often tempted to leave the mundane aspects of their workplace existences behind for a few minutes (or in some cases, a few hours) and surf their way into another world that perpetually beckons from their screens.

The resulting problems for the manager are obvious, most notably the threat to productivity levels. What should be done about the issue is a matter of increasingly hot debate, as our story on page four illustrates (“Cyber-slacking” offers net managers a new headache”). Opinions on what constitutes an acceptable level of personal surfing are polarized.

Arguments on one extreme state that an employee’s computer is the company’s property and the employee therefore has no right to privacy on that machine. This

appears to be a valid view – in a purely philosophical way. Looking at the situation in a more practical light, however, we all know that workplaces are far too political, and the typical employee-employer relationship far too complex, for these arguments to be taken seriously.

Any corporation that takes such a rigid approach to worker privacy will no doubt be faced with a disgruntled workforce and an “us-against-them” atmosphere throughout its halls and cubicles. A certain level of privacy has to be extended to workers if they are to remain healthy contributors to a company’s overall effort. This privacy level should be in effect for something as personal as a worker’s desk or cubicle. Any company wishing to have healthy relations between staff and supervisors will realize this.

If they do, that’s great. The next step is to establish a level that is acceptable to the employee yet not damaging to productivity. Easier said than done, of course. The solution lies not so much in buying the right piece of monitoring software or enacting such micro-managerial tactics as snooping around behind the backs of potentially cyberslacking workers. These tactics might bring about the desired effect, but the best way to handle the problem is to address it at a much earlier stage: the job interview.

No manager can ever be given an iron-clad guarantee that the person they just hired is not going to turn out to be as lazy as Andy Capp. But there is a good chance that a half-hearted hiring effort will result in less-than-ideal job candidates being hired. Finding the right employee who isn’t interested in slacking can be a long and arduous undertaking, but the extra effort can go a long way to averting the pains of having to face a problem like cyber-slacking.