Preventing Your Employees From Watching Videos Won't Prevent Them From Procrastinating

from the it'll-just-annoy-them dept

We’ve been saying for years that the notion that employee web surfing at work constitutes “lost profits” is nonsense. There is an infinite number of ways employees can waste time at work, from chatting with coworkers, reading magazines, or even taking a nap. Monitoring and restricting web surfing isn’t likely to make employees procrastinate less, it’ll just make them procrastinate in ways that are harder to monitor, and annoy them in the process. The Wall Street Journal has the latest example of surfing-at-work hysteria. Apparently the latest crisis is the time-wasting potential of Internet video sites. The funny thing about the article is that it inadvertently does a pretty good job of illustrating why blocking web-based video isn’t a very good plan. One employee actually looked at clients’ videos as part of his job, so he had to waste his own and the IT department’s time seeking an exception every time he had a video he needed to watch in order to do his job. In an even more ridiculous case, an office had a mass shooting occur in a nearby mall, and all of the employees in the office apparently spent time complaining to the boss for permission to watch the news about it. Here, it was clear that the employees were already sitting around reading stories about the shooting, so they obviously weren’t getting much work done. Yet for some reason the boss still seems proud of himself for preventing his employees from watching videos of the event. The article also cites bandwidth limitations as a reason for blocking online videos, but that seems like overkill. If upgrading bandwidth isn’t an option (and bandwidth is getting cheaper every year) it seems like a much more straightforward approach would be to simply monitor total bandwidth consumption and warn the heaviest users to keep their consumption down. That would keep the network humming without treating employees like they’re children.

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Comments on “Preventing Your Employees From Watching Videos Won't Prevent Them From Procrastinating”

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Network Admin says:


You try an warn people who have no idea about bandwidth that they are clogging my single T1.

You get 60 people on myspace and youtube and streaming music over a t1 connection. The you have you web app you run and the 30 other people trying to access the terminal server.

Blocking these sites becomes necessary. bandwidth cheaper? Well if you have not noticed the economy is bad, so who is the first department to get slammed? IT.

I wish I could have another T1 or even a 5 meg Ethernet connection.

So basically, blocking these sites does help.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: bandwith

Yes, blocking sites helps with congestion. Throttling heavy users also helps with congestion. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but the fact of the matter is that bandwidth is thrown in as an afterthought on top of the fact that employees are wasting time. Employees will always waste time, but irritating them, treating them like children, just causes other problems that everyone would be better off without.

moe says:

Re: bandwith

Network Admin has got it right. Bandwidth is a concern. While it might be an, “and also” line in the article, that’s because articles titled, “Video sites use up bandwidth” don’t get published. Bandwith is reason #1 in reality.

Mike, sometimes you’ve got to set aside your “pie in the sky” ideals (just buy more bandwidth, it’s cheap). For many of your articles they’re appropriate, but for others (like this one), not so much. Which is easier, cheaper, and takes less time — blocking sites or monitoring network use and warning heavy users? Generally, there is no sound reason for an organization to add more responsibilities, time, and cost when it can use an easier, albeit rigid, solution.

moe says:

Re: Re: bandwith (Oopsie!)

I’ve just committed my biggest pet peeve on the site — attributing every article to Mike Masnick. 🙂

Every time I see another commenter do it, I think, geez, just read the info right next to the article. My desire to comment got the better of me this time — sorry Tim.

shanoboy (profile) says:

Re: bandwith

I’ve got to side with the network admin.

I work for a county government. A while back we were having a problem with our net connection being slowed to a crawl. Turns out it was because a few of the fire departments had a 24/7 live feed going from a website called feed the deer.

So go figure, the dummies ruined it for everyone else. Organizations have to kill things like video feed.

James (profile) says:

Re: bandwith

First, let’s start with spelling. You need to take a second and check your spelling before you post anything – it’s just good manners.

Second, let’s look at the issue. If you are the network administrator, and you have sixty people using bandwidth-intensive external websites, there are a number of things you could do to make your job a little easier.

A) Meet with the employees in small groups to explain exactly what’s going on. Show them physical examples (bring a six inch length of PVC pipe and start sticking items into it, as an idea), describe what’s going on, and make it clear that what they do makes your job THAT much harder. Phrase it like that – people aren’t simply going to listen to “don’t do this”, but they’ll certainly get that what they do affects you personally, and that will sting them.
B) You could also meet with their supervisors and let them know what’s going on, if it is your goal to quash these sites entirely (I disagree with that approach but let’s continue). Show them what’s going on, perhaps using the physical example I showed you before, perhaps in some other fashion. Give them some options for dealing with this: more bandwidth, which would eliminate the bandwidth crunch and give you some breathing room; blocking of all non-essential outside traffic, which will increase calls to your helpdesk with users complaining (and which will not do much for executive users who will almost always find a way to squirrel around this, what with their doo-doo smelling of the finest roses and all); blocking of sites on a per-impact basis, which will make your job a living nightmare of playing cat and mouse with the latest video or audio websites.

Just saying as you do that the economy is bad (it isn’t) doesn’t get you anywhere. It sounds less like a problem with the network you have and more a problem with how you are able (or not) to handle it. I’m in IT (if you haven’t already guessed) and understand completely where you’re coming from and what you’re going through, as I’m sure a number of people have who’ve read this, but you need to take a step back and understand that if they don’t want to fix it, you can’t let it consume you. You can just suggest an approach to fix it – carrying it out is up to the money men and if they say no, I wouldn’t necessarily block it – I’d just let them deal with low bandwidth and let them deal with it. Starve it out of them, basically – it works, I promise.

Network Admin says:

Re: Re: bandwith

First, sorry about the mis spelled words but you don’t have to put be on blast for it.

Second, the economy is bad especially when your business is directly tied to the mortgage business. If no one can buy a house how can the finance a pool?

Third, I had tried every single way to get people to conform to using the internet at work in a responsible way. If you are on break we could have cared less about you being on myspace.

But people don’t care what IT tells them and do what they want anyway.

So now we block it all and I review usage logs monthly and block new sites I feel are bandwidth hogs.

Jason Still (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: bandwith

But people don’t care what IT tells them and do what they want anyway.

I think your ultimate problem is actually in that sentence. From the sounds of it, decrees put forth by IT have no backing by management, and thus there’s no reason for the peons to do what other peons (as IT is most often viewed in many companies) tell them. As soon as the head honcho gives IT the power to write-up any employees for violations of the various IT related rules and makes it known to all that they will begin enforcing said rules then people will take them seriously.

Network Admin says:

Re: Re: Re:2 bandwith

But why even both with it(not saying we didn’t try)? All the hand holding and writing people up did not solve the bandwidth issue, eliminating the cause (the now blocked sites) did.

We talked too, disciplined and even fired a guy.

Since implementing the new system we no longer have issues and people have gotten over not being able to get on myspace.

I also would be willing to bet that since then productivity in data entry (the worst of the offenders) has increased.

I have no metrics to back this up with but(no numbers on the performance of the employees) that department used to use almost 60-70% of the bandwidth in a month. Now they are at the bottom of my utilization logs.

Less time on myspace = more time working period.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: bandwith

Yeah, I’m with you. Some other places you can save your company money: Blowing circuits because you don’t have enough power? Tell ’em to use flashlights and leave the lights off. Heat too expensive? Tell ’em to wear coats in the office. Not enough parking? Tell ’em they can’t drive. After all, there’s no correlation between a person’s satisfaction with their professional environment and their professional productivity.

pinakidion says:

I got you beat, Tim

Not only do we block video of any kind, we block personal email, the main city newspaper site, bulletin boards, craigslist, ebay, blogs (basically looks for MT3 or WordPress installations and,, e.g.), chat rooms and any site with the word g-a-m-e.

We get yelled at for using work email for personal business with no way to use a separate email. The answer is, “don’t do personal things at work”. The main city newspaper is cited as having pop-under ads. Forums are cited as time wasters despite tech forums being useful to our jobs. Asking for an exception puts you in the naughty corner for a week. (Essentially, you are treated as if you have asked the stupidest question possible.)

What is this “treated like an adult” thing you speak of?

Ann says:

I am not in IT so I can’t speak on the bandwidth impact. My thought is that I could understand this for companies that when you leave the office/job you 100% are off the job but that is not the case with many jobs. When I leave my office for the day, I am still thinking about work situations, problem solving, checking and responding to e-mail from my home pc, and occasionally socialize with co-workers on my own time and we discuss work. I am salaried and will never get paid back for those things, not a big deal to me. Basically there is never going to be a way to keep these things black and white for people like me: when I leave the office, I ‘take it with me’ and so do most people I know.

Anonymous Coward says:

I find the last line in the article rather silly!
Let’s turn that statement about “treating employees like children” around…if the employees would act like responsible adults and not like spoiled entitled children, then management wouldn’t HAVE to treat them like children. I find that running a business with employees can be compared to running a day care for five year olds! Instead of choosing to do things that benefit the company, they choose to do anything and everything counter-productive.
Limiting web access is a pro-active solution to what would be a reactive solution, which would be simply firing people who engage in these activities.
Recently we had to initiate a policy of zero tolerance on personal cell phone use because our employees were neglecting their job duties to text their friends or gab on the phone…some even answering their phone while dealing with a customer face to face!
The short answer is, if people would ACT like adults, they will be treated as such!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Point: people waste time online.
Point: blocking online access prevents this.
Point: people waste time in other ways.
Point: it is difficult to monitor many of these “other ways.”
Point: it is easy to monitor wasting time online.
Point: though reactive, threat of losing one’s job motivates most people.
Point: it’s easier to fire someone on the basis of computer logs than, “you chat with your co-workers too much.”

If people would ACT like mindless corporate drones, we wouldn’t need to treat them like children! People aren’t cogs in a great machine, and much as you may dislike it do have lives outside of work that need to be managed. Putting these unnecessary restrictions on your emplyees under some delusion of increasing efficiency simply develops a hostile work environment and an “us against them” mentality between the employees and the managment.

Mindless corporate drone says:

Re: Re: Wasting time

It has always amazed me how incompetent management tries to come up with ways to make sure people work every minute they are on the job. Downtime and distraction during a busy workday are important and actually beneficial to re-energizing and getting work done.

A manager should be able to give an employee tasks to complete and agree on a timeframe that it should take to accomplish those tasks. If an employee spending hours on youtube then you have not given them enough to do, and that’s a failure in your ability to manage. If a person is challenged and busy and has realistic deadlines and goals to meet, they will not waste time.

If a person puts in extra time after hours to get the task done and they want to spend 15 minutes checking something on facebook when they should probably be taking a break anyway, just let them.

What happens instead is most managers are under qualified to lead a team, and have no idea what their employees actually do. So to compensate for their own deficiencies they institute fascist web policies preventing people from accessing what are sometimes actually business related sites.

Here’s a good example, my employer block facebook and myspace, but they don’t block LinkedIn… because all the manager use that. I’ve received more LinkedIn invites in the past month than I’ve ever received in facebook in the year or two I’ve been a memeber.

Leave the web open, send your managers to training and everyone will benefit.

sonofdot says:

Re: Re:

Clearly, you choose to treat people as children first (evidence your zero-tolerance policy for personal cell phone use).

I used to work for a cheap-ass fuck-wad just like you. Instead of dealing with individual difficult employees, this company chose the easy way out — ban everything for everyone. At the time, I was a salaried employee with a personal office, and enjoyed listening (quietly) to the radio at work, in my office. One day, a loading dock worker came in with a Walkman, which he wore while working on the dock. When told he couldn’t use his Walkman at work, the employee pointed out that I had a radio in my office. Instead of reminding that employee that his job was dangerous, and the distraction of wearing headphones was unacceptable in his $5/hour job position, and that I was a salaried, administrative employee with a private office, they chose to ban all radios for all employees. They also removed the pay phones because people used the phones for more than the allotted 3 minutes during break or lunch. They banned pagers, personal calls and cell phones. Eventually, the place became a revolving door for marginally employable people, because anyone with a brain wouldn’t stay in that concentration camp for long.

The short answer is, if you want people to enjoy working for you and respect you, treat them like adults. Of course, you have to be one yourself.

sonofdot says:

Re: Re:

Been there too, with the same shitty employer I noted in a previous post. Got into lots of trouble for working a 39 hour week once, and in addition was threatened with having my pay docked 15 minutes for being even one minute late (even though that’s not an option with salaried employees). The boss seemed to willing to forget the weekends I worked, the after hours I worked, all of the weeks when I worked 50 hours instead of 40. He fixated on that one week I only worked 39 hours.

After that incident, I left for the day after working exactly 8 hours — not even one minute extra was acceptable. If I was in the middle of something, too bad. I even walked out during conversations with my jackass boss, because my time for the day was up.

Now I work for a company that recognizes there’s life outside of work, and — surprise! surprise! — people enjoy working here, and almost everyone is a long-term employee. And this company is growing, whereas the company I worked for previously hadn’t grown by even a single percentage point in 10 years.

You reap what you sow.

whoever wrote this says:

way off topic

I find the last line in the article rather silly!
Let’s turn that statement about “treating employees like children” around…if the employees would act like responsible adults and not like spoiled entitled children, then management wouldn’t HAVE to treat them like children. I find that running a business with employees can be compared to running a day care for five year olds! Instead of choosing to do things that benefit the company, they choose to do anything and everything counter-productive.
Limiting web access is a pro-active solution to what would be a reactive solution, which would be simply firing people who engage in these activities.
Recently we had to initiate a policy of zero tolerance on personal cell phone use because our employees were neglecting their job duties to text their friends or gab on the phone…some even answering their phone while dealing with a customer face to face!
The short answer is, if people would ACT like adults, they will be treated as such!

All the while companies make decisions based on “the company”.

Gene (profile) says:

DCMA Relevent?

I would like to say you’re right on all points but I can’t. Why? Because I am one of the procrastinators. Before I was given the internet in my office I was keeping up with my workload in the shop. I would get things done just to relieve my boredom. Now I sit here commenting on your article and a few others before I go back to my video site to check new submissions. I can’t even get up from my chair anymore. Furthermore I believe this is directly related to my failing health, since I hardly move from my seat all day.
I should sue the company for allowing this to happen.


chris (profile) says:

try administering the network once in a while

every network admin is so quick to wave the bandwidth flag when the truth is that if youtube causes your network problems, then you aren’t administering your network very well.

yes you can log activities and keep metrics. you’re the network admin, that’s your job. if you aren’t logging and keeping good metrics, how do you know if your network is secure?

if you can’t identify and throttle/disconnect a host that is causing trouble on your network in a timely manner, how do you respond to virus outbreaks, malware, or intrusions?

a handful of users can’t possibly take down the whole network because you have it divided into subnets and you use vlans to prevent that, right?

your externally facing servers aren’t affected by the behavior of your users because your DMZ has it’s own redundant connections and you have QOS rules to guarantee availability of the critical ones, right?

for the guy with the single T1, most markets offer business class DSL with multiple megabit download speeds at a fraction of the cost of a T1, which is what the subnets on your user vlans should be using so you can save your T1 for your externally facing servers. bandwidth is cheap, T1’s are not. you can have more than one uplink, all it takes is the right config on your router.

restrictive IT policies create unhappy and subversive employees. you have enough to worry about keeping the badguys outside of your firewall, you don’t want to compound your troubles by creating enemies inside the firewall as well.

if you are the network admin, and you aren’t administering the network, well then you are wasting way more time and money than those video watching coworkers of yours and you should do the company a favor and quit.

John (profile) says:


The real question to ask is why employees are “procrastinating” and “wasting time” at work? Are they not busy enough? Are they so bored at work that they need to look at at videos?

And, obviously, if a company thinks it needs to ban video sites, then it believes that employees are watching videos for more than just a quick break.
So why doesn’t the company take a look at itself and see why the employees are so bored that they’re spending so much time watching videos?

After all, it’s not likely that the employee will say, “Hey boss, I’m so bored and I have so little to do that I’m spending my day watching videos. Can you give me some more work?”

Buzz says:

Why target the Internet?

Why is Internet access the primary target of concern aside from the fact that it is easily monitored/filtered? As mentioned several times already, you have bigger problems to deal with if your employees would rather visit MySpace/Facebook EN MASS than actually do work. In places I have worked, I have heard concerns of Internet access being a distraction, but I have never heard of bandwidth being a concern. Do you people really work in places where dozens of employees jump onto YouTube at once? Or do you have just one employee who spends hours on YouTube? Why isn’t he fired yet?

Blocking web sites is essentially admitting that the employees were improperly managed or educated. The primary focus should be whether the company objectives are being fulfilled. From there, the office should be a comfortable place to work in. Sure, I was never allowed to browse the Internet mindlessly for hours while at work, but my boss would occasionally watch a funny video with my co-workers and me. I believe having a relaxed environment is crucial to being productive. If employees are spending tons of time other places, something is out of place (and it’s not the Internet filters).

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