Should Managers Monitor Employee Email & Internet Usage?

The number of companies monitoring employees' internet usage is rapidly growing and for good reason. About 60 percent of employees use social media while at work. More than half are using their time at work to shop online. These habits can affect their productivity and overall performance. Yet, some studies suggest that surfing the web during work hours keeps employees motivated and engaged. In this case, it's important to consider to what extent management should monitor which websites employees visit.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Managers should consider how internet usage impacts employee productivity and find a solution.

Internet Usage and Employee Productivity

For today's employees, the internet is an integral part of everyday life. Over 34 percent of people use social media during work hours to take a mental break. Only 20 percent use social networks to get information that actually helps them at work.

Most studies indicate that internet usage hurts productivity in the workplace. It's not unusual for employees to visit entertainment sites, buy products online or chat on WhatsApp while at work. In 2016, 11 percent of employers fired workers for shopping online during the holiday season. Another 54 percent have blocked employee access to certain websites.

Wasted time at work is one of the most common complaints among companies worldwide. Up to 16 percent of employees waste roughly two hours daily because of their internet surfing habits. Many times, they have to work late hours or sacrifice sleep in order to finish their projects and get the job done. This affects their productivity as well as the company's revenue. After all, time is money.

However, not everyone seems to agree with these claims. Recent studies have found that surfing the web while at work serves as a boredom-coping mechanism and has a negligible impact on employee productivity.

This habit, which is known as cyberloafing, tends to occur when the workload is low. Other studies show the opposite: When managers don't restrict internet usage, more than half of workers spend at least four hours per week browsing websites that have nothing to do with their job.

As a manager or business owner, it's up to you to decide whether or not you should be monitoring employees on networks during work hours. Think about how it's going to benefit your organization and influence employee morale.

What About Monitoring Employee Email?

Even though the number of companies monitoring employees' internet usage is on the rise, not all of them are tracking their emails too. From a legal perspective, employers are allowed to monitor the emails sent within the organization. However, several companies have been sued for doing so.

Consider the ethical aspects of monitoring employee email. If you decide to do it and your team finds out, you may lose their trust. Consider drafting a document to describe an effective policy for email and web use so your employees know what to expect.

This practice should be made explicitly clear to your team. If they're aware their emails are being monitored, they will use discretion when exchanging messages that are not related to their work.

How to Monitor Internet Usage

From internal monitoring systems to desktop and mobile apps, there are various ways to monitor employee email and internet usage. If you're looking for a more affordable option, consider using online tools like:

  • BrowseReporter
  • Time Doctor
  • Activity Monitor
  • Pearl Software
  • Hubstaff

Hubstaff, for example, tracks the number of hours and minutes worked. Time Doctor claims to increase productivity in the workplace by a whopping 22 percent. This program allows users to take screenshots of their employees' computers, making it easier to manage remote teams.

No matter what option you choose, let your staff know about it. Tell them that the purpose of monitoring employee email and internet usage is to create a compliant, productive workplace and not to invade their privacy.

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About the Author

Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.