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Surfing the Net on Your Boss's Time

Personal Internet Use at Work


Businesswoman working on computer at workstation
Thomas Barwick/Iconica/Getty Images

Many People Use the Net at Work

Do you do your online shopping while at work? Do you check and send personal email? How about checking stock quotes? Well, many of you must have answered yes to those questions. An article on emarketer.com reported on the results of a survey conducted by Vault.com. According to the survey, 25% of employees use the Internet for personal use during office hours for at least ten minutes each day. Thirteen percent of workers use the Internet for at least two hours per day.

How Much is Too Much?

Your first hint should be your company's policy on Internet use. Do they have one? Many companies do. Even if your company doesn't have a written policy limiting Internet use, they may frown upon it. According to the survey cited above, “... 35% of employers think personal web time should be limited to 30 minutes per day.”

Company policies aside, it isn't wise to spend a lot of time online. After all, aren't you getting paid to do your job? You may argue that you only spend time doing non-job related activities, i.e. surfing the Net, when you finish your job-related ones. You may not want to use that explanation with your boss though. The question that follows may be “Why don't you have enough work to fill your day?” Your boss may decide that there isn't enough work to justify your salary.

Not all employers want to eliminate your time on the Net entirely. For example The Chief Information Officers Council, a (U.S.) government-wide committee of senior technology executives proposed that Federal workers be allowed to spend some time conducting personal business online just as “agencies let employees use telephones to make a reasonable amount of personal calls” ( CIOs: A Little Personal Internet Use Is Ok. Govexec.com. March 22, 1999.).

Unless your company prohibits personal use of the Net entirely, you should limit your time to checking a stock or two, and perhaps checking your email. And of course use common sense. If there's work to be done that certainly should take precedence.

Surf Wisely

Even if your boss doesn't care if you spend time online, does that mean you can do whatever you want, visit whatever sites you want, and send email to whomever and about whatever you want? The answer is no. You must surf wisely. There are certainly some sites that are off limits. Think of this in terms of the real world. Are there places out there at which you would feel uncomfortable running into your boss? Then you should stay away from those types of “establishments” in the virtual world as well. You may think that you can travel around the Web anonymously. You could be wrong. Some companies utilize software that keeps track of Web sites their employees visit. Imagine how embarassing it would be if you got caught in, let's say, a compromising position.

Take caution when sending email from work. “Always assume they’ll end up in the last place you want to see them,” according to Bob Rosner, who writes the Working Wounded column on ABCnews.com (Stepping on E-Mail Eggshells. ABCnews.com.). Rosner also gives this wise advice: "Write every e-mail as if your boss will eventually read it." A friend of mine wanted to send a somewhat off color joke to some of her friends. She accessed the wrong mailing list in her address book and inadvertently sent it to several directors in her company, who luckily had a good sense of humor.

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