Youtube and Facebook: Workplace Morale and Internet Addiction

Should Management Monitor Employee World Wide Web Surfing?

Should an employer tolerate computer social networking on the job, or prohibit it? An Australian study suggests office workers are generally more productive if they relax every so often online, by reading news, shopping or chatting with friends on Bebo, Hi5, AIM, FriendFeed or Yahoo Messenger.  The study’s author, Dr. Brent Coker, argues that often employer blocking of web sites like Youtube or Amazon is counterproductive.  Employees need a break, he says.

But beware Internet addiction.  Dr. Coker sees signs of addiction in 14 percent of Internet users.  Addiction means the users overdo it.  They browse to excess; they can’t act responsibly.  From the perspective of an employer, 14 percent is a huge number.  How can an employer afford to idle 14 percent of its work force?  Dr. Coker warns that for these 14 percent, casual surfing can become a waste of time and worse .

So what is an employer to do?  Internet access in the workplace is not a black and white issue.  Different work environments – and different employees – need different rules and different degrees of guidance.  For example, while on duty, maybe an air traffic controller should not be watching comical videos.  But such videos are probably okay — and maybe even wise and recommended — when she’s on break.

Responsible Internet monitoring by supervisors and even blocking have a place in the modern job site.   If an employer does monitor access to the Internet, it is wise to inform employees in advance.

–Ben Wright

At the SANS Institute, Mr. Wright teaches IT administrators how to stay out of jail.