Just say ‘no’ to companies’ Internet and e-mail monitoring of employees

“Wanted: experienced network manager. Familiarity with NT, Cisco, LAN and WAN environments. Special consideration will be given to candidates with a proven track record of monitoring all end user network activities and reporting them to senior management.”

The first part of this hypothetical want ad is pretty standard, if short on specifics. The “special consideration” section is something that realistically will never appear in a job posting, but could be an expected secondary duty in some companies.

According to an article entitled “The Eroded Self” in the April 30 edition of The New York Times Magazine, a 1999 survey of almost 1,000 large firms conducted by the American Management Association found 45 per cent monitored the e-mail, computer files or phone calls of employees. This figure was up from 35 per cent two years before.

Should network managers quietly go along with what appears to be a growing trend in corporate North America? Or should they voice concerns about a possible invasion of employees’ privacy and the network manager’s own role in this invasion? While on the surface, it might appear that businesses have a right to know what employees do on company time, monitoring employee activities may ultimately lead to lower corporate morale and productivity.

No one would question the fact that the Internet has grown in leaps and bounds as a communications tool over the past decade. A company that does not give its employees Internet and e-mail access is losing a critically important source of business information.

Unfortunately, not all employees receiving Internet and e-mail privileges will use those privileges responsibly. Realistically, almost all employees will use e-mail to contact friends and family throughout the work day. And some will use their Internet access to surf sites for sports scores, check stock quotes, do some personal shopping, or ogle scandalous photos on pornographic sites.

Employee use of corporate e-mail and Internet

access for personal purposes is undoubtedly a waste of both corporate resources – in the form of bandwidth and hardware – and employee productivity – in time lost to writing personal e-mail and surfing sites for non-business purposes. But cracking down on such activity by monitoring it and punishing it is not a solution.

Companies that monitor their employees’ on-line activities risk losing their employees’ trust. No one likes to think they’re being watched all the time and an unhappy employee is a less-productive employee.

Finally, there’s the position of the network manager to be taken into consideration. In an environment where on-line employee activities are constantly monitored, the networking staff will be viewed with suspicion and distrust by most employees. Networking personnel may not be responsible for the monitoring policies in place, but they will bear some of the blame for those policies, because they help to enforce them.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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