No, Spying On Your Employees Won't Mean They Waste Less Time

from the not-this-again dept

You know, it had actually been quite some time since the last article we saw hyping up the supposed “threat” of personal surfing at work that was really a thinly-veiled press release from a company selling yet another me too filtering software. It had even reached the point that, maybe, just maybe, people had realized that personal surfing at work isn’t the problem. Studies have shown that personal surfing at work is good for employees by allowing an employee to be more balanced and efficient when they were working. Those employees also tend to more than make up the time they spent personal surfing. Yet, here we are again, with a trade magazine barely rewriting a press release from yet another employee monitoring software company with the headline claiming that “Wasting Time Online Could Be A Thing Of The Past.”

Of course, none of the previous identical solutions made “wasting time” a thing of the past. The article never even bothers to mention that this is a crowded market with a ton of products. The headline seems to suggest that this is the first such product. Meanwhile, the idea that this will somehow end wasting time is laughable. If people want to take a break from working and do something else, they’ll do that one way or the other. If it’s not online it’ll be a water cooler break or something else. Plus, by constantly telling your employees you don’t trust them, you decrease employee morale. Finally, it fails to recognize that work isn’t a binary function. Just because you’re doing some personal surfing it doesn’t mean that work is somehow “lost.” That break could allow someone to be much more effective later, allowing them to recharge, or even have ideas percolating in the back of their brain. Every time one of these products comes out with such wild claims plenty of people point this out. Yet why is it that trade publication reporters never bother to ask these kinds of questions? Even more important, why aren’t the providers of this kind of software addressing these questions ahead of time (along with explaining how they’re different than the 50 other such products)?

Filed Under:
Companies: beaware

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Comments on “No, Spying On Your Employees Won't Mean They Waste Less Time”

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Anonymous Coward says:

As an IT manager, I’m not concerned with my users wasting time, and neither is the company’s owner. What we are concerned with is spam and security risks.

My users are not computer sophisticates. I educate them with news and tips on a regular basis, and they seem to appreciate it. It’s an endless job; but I have no problem with that.

This is a privately owned company. Every thing my boss owns is tied up in it. Every loss comes directly out of his pocket. If that causes me to prevent non-business related surfing and emailing – they’ll have to deal with it.

Out of 100 users, I’ve had only one complainer. He survives.

Champ says:


I work for a large telecommunications company that has just imposed filters on internet use. It is exceptionally frustrating to have sites made inaccessible due to our CIO’s desire to “improve productivity”. Unfortunately, these filters also block many useful sites – sites that are essential for gaining an understanding from multiple sources of competitors products and offerings. While they offer to unblock these sites “if you have a valid reason”, the processing of these requests not highly prioritised. In a fast paced industry, having to wait 2 weeks to access vital competitive information is crazy – but believe me, fighting the “productivity improvement” argument is impossible!

Sanguine Dream says:


All this is fear mongering. Warn companies about about a serious that they just happen to have the “best” solution to.

I want to know exactly how these studies measure productivity. One minute of personal surfing = one minute of lost productivity? If that is the case then going to the bathroom, going for a cup of coffee, and even going across the office to speak to a coworker or fetch a printout can cost a company 1000s of hours in lost productivity per year.

Corporation need to get over themselves and realize that when they hire a person they do not take 100% control of their life.

katie says:

internet usage by employees

other than the very real problem of viruses and possible liability for offensive sites etc etc, the main reason employers have spy programs and rules about internet usage is so that the rules can be used selectively when they decide it’s time to teach some or all of the employees a lesson in just who is the boss. It may not be obvious in small places or those that have no manufacturing components on site, but anyplace that does have manufacturing has employees that know that more rules there are(no matter how illogical the reason given for them) the more chance they can be used to keep folks in line. This is never so obvious as when management wants to push the union into having to look ineffective or actually spend money to defend someone who has broken a “work rule”.

Overcast says:

Before the Web, it was the water cooler.
Nothing’s really changed, lol

Sometimes I surf the web at work, but I work after hours at home sometimes too. At least in my case, it all works out.

Actually, with my company they allow me to work from home sometimes, have casual fridays, never give me greif when I need time off, don’t micro-manage me…

I put out a lot more work here than other places where they ‘MicroManaged’ more – why? Because simply – I feel the company is understanding when it comes to my needs and because they treat me with respect.

My boss doesn’t fret the small stuff – I come in 15 min late, no big deal. I leave 15 min early – no big deal. But the work better get done at some point – and it certainly does.

Our groups manages 800 servers with 98% uptime on the vast majority. Considering many of them are in warehouses and production facilities – that’s not too bad.

I know the last place I worked with 99% Micro Management never got me motivated.

Shalkar says:

My Opinion is:

As for the second comment, I’d say that reason is the most practical and legitimate out of all of it. While the majority of people that might regularly read Techdirt are people that tend to actually KNOW what a firewall is, the majority of people that use a computer have no clue. It is because of their ignorance and/or carelessness that such rules are implemented. If everybody was careful, maybe even more so at work, then we would all be able to surf a little more.

As for the ninth comment by katie, I’d say that hits it on the spot as for ulterior motive. That it’s a reason/excuse to practice terrorizing the workers. “Keep’em in line”, as it were. Which, is something to reconsider if you’re not currently paying a disgruntled employee, such as myself, enough money to get their anti-psychotic meds. 😛 lol

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: My Opinion is:

Absolutely – the other valid reason is image

I have had a client in the past who refused to filter their internet access at all which made IT’s job very hard constantly cleaning up infections, dealing with load etc

We lost them as a client for unrelated reasons (mainly cost – I dunno they don’t tell me!) and a year later the police entered site, arrested an employee and took his workstation as evidence. He’d been surfing child porn etc on his work machine

The whole thing was very embarassing for the company and bad for their family friendly image (it made headlines in local and national press apparently)

Since then I hear they have filters in place

M says:

About time

Although the chagrin of many, we actually convinced our corp HQ to block myspace and other related sites. (at least on the US Side, not sure of the rest of the world). For a while, you could walk through any portion of the business and see the majority with their or another page up. It was getting so ridiculous that that the call center analysts were putting on separate headphones to listen to whatever embedded bs was on said page.

Thank goodness this was blocked.

John (profile) says:

How about smoke breaks

Which employee would you rather have at your company?
The guy who surfs MySpace for an hour or the guys who take a 15-minute smoking break every hour?

The MySpace employee will look at his profile, look at other people’s, get bored, and go back to work.
Total time “lost”: 1 hour (if that).

The smokers go outside every hour or so, for 15 minutes.
Total time “lost”: 15 minutes x 8 hours or roughly 2 hours.
The smokers are also ingesting toxic (though legal) chemicals, which could lead to higher health insurance claims. It could also result in them taking more sick days, which could shift their work onto non-smoking co-workers.

At my previous job, I couldn’t count the number of times that I (or my boss) needed to ask a co-worker a question, only to find he was (yet again) on his hourly 15-minute smoke break.

Jerome Lapointe says:

Surfing on the clock

People trying to crack down on these personal surfing break at large company wide are either…

1) Doing checks outside of their jurisdiction on employees they do not manage personally… and there for have too much time on their hands… they should go find a way to bring in more money to pay for their salary…

2) Are managers totally oblivious to their subordinates work performance. The question is this: Is the work getting done? If so then shut up. Otherwise investigate why… maybe your employees are taking their long overdue vacations 30 minutes at a time…

Cloak'n'Dagger says:

Bucking the Trend Here

I have seen owners/manager out of control trying to block casual ‘surfing’ – I agree with most of the above.

However.. this type of software does have it’s place… specifically – Watch/Notify/Stop private corporate information from leaving the workplace by e-mail, ftp, http upload etc.

Employee decides.. hey, I’m going to start my own company, or quit and get a job a competitor B.. before I do that I think I’ll just e-mail our financials, customer lists, proprietary documents etc over to company B first… Even though thats against the policies… oh well.. good thing I found they had an opening while surfing online…

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