Last fall, the Canadian Advanced Technology Association (CATA Alliance; http://www.cata.ca) published the results of their Internet misuse survey ( http://www.cata.ca/cata/news/aug2701.cfm). This survey, which was responded to by almost 10 per cent of CATA members, found a certain tolerance for personal use of the Internet during business hours.
“Canadian employees seem to have found a good balance between personal time and work time,” said CATA President John Reid in a press release. “In a sense, they have absorbed this new online world into their lives, the way the telephone was absorbed before it, with a responsible balance of time between work and personal use. The danger zone for companies appears to be less in wasted time, than in a clash of taste.”
As a person that aids organizations implementing a privacy code, I was encouraged by the survey results. I have found that, contrary to the statistics promoted by the purveyors of surveillance technologies, responsible employers have little stomach to engage in employee surveillance unless a specific problem individual has been identified. But I have to admit that I was surprised at some of the findings.
First was the deployment of surveillance technology. Many reports suggest that employee monitoring is commonplace with 50 to 70 per cent of employees under surveillance. But the CATA survey paints a very different picture. “Only 14 per cent manage online behaviour with software tools.” This low deployment is even more striking when you consider that “46 per cent [of the respondents] think online activity management software would create a healthier work environment.”
It would appear that the software vendor’s figures may be determined by counting the number of employees in companies that have purchased surveillance software without regard to whether the company uses the product on a selective or indiscriminate basis. Whatever the reason, this survey certainly disputes their assertions about the prevalence of surveillance software in the workplace, or at least in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.
The other finding that surprised me was the employer acceptance of personal use of the Internet during office hours. “Most managers, 62 per cent, think that employees should have up to an hour each day for personal Internet use.” While I believe that employees should be able to do things like make flight reservations and other short duration activities during business hours, I just would not have thought an hour a day to be an acceptable guideline.
There are strong indications that surveillance erodes employee productivity and trust. If we remember that CATA members are high-tech employers who compete for human resources that are in high demand, then perhaps this is one of the accommodations that they make to maintain a less stressed and more productive workplace. We can also consider that traditionally ICT workers work longer hours. Perhaps one employer’s cyber slacking, is another’s flexible working arrangements.
In October 2000, the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) approved a position on e-mail and Internet surveillance (www.cips.ca/it/position/surveillance/). CIPS takes the position that it is against indiscriminate surveillance but it also recognizes that surveillance is sometimes necessary and can be deployed on a selective or targeted basis. This position paper gives guidance regarding factors that should be considered in formulating your company’s acceptable-use policy.
On balance, it appears to me that CIPS and employers (CATA Alliance members in particular) have not been caught up in the hype and have taken a reasoned approach to workplace surveillance issues. That message is a welcome change.
Boufford, I.S.P., is president of e-Privacy Management Systems – a consulting firm specializing in privacy and information technology. He can be reached at John.Boufford@e-Privacy.ca. His Web page can be viewed at http://www.e-Privacy.ca.