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Keeping your job 101—Internet usage

With long-term unemployed numbers reaching historic highs and an increasingly taut labor market, financial analysts and career advisors have expressed legitimate concern about getting Americans back to work. In such an environment, however, the question of how employed Americans might keep their job has become both relevant and worthy of discussion.

Over the next week I will look at what someone who is currently employed can do to keep his or her job–looking at those things that might harm or help someone who, like the rest of the global workforce, has a very real interest in holding onto his or her current job. Today’s topic? Internet usage.

Last summer I had a discussion with a friend who manages the IT helpdesk at a small construction firm. From a discussion on Fourth Amendment Rights in the electronic age we, quite naturally, transitioned into a discussion about the various mechanisms companies have in place to keep an eye on their employees’ internet usage. My friend informed me that just that week he had been tasked with monitoring the internet activity of an employee. He not only tracked his or her virtual movements, he spent the day watching the computer screen of the employee on his monitor, allowing him to see, firsthand, how the employee in question was spending his or her day.

The employee spent 6 hours of the 8-hour workday perusing the Web and visiting online celebrity gossip columns and it was decided that the employee, whose poor performance warranted the inquiry, most likely needed to be “let go”. I asked about the program that allowed him to perform this feat and in response to my questions he informed me that, “It was always on, it was just running in the background”.

Denise Kersten of USAToday observes that, according to the American Management Association, “Sixty-three percent of large and mid-sized companies monitor Internet use and 46.5% store and review e-mails.” From e-mails containing insensitive or obscene language or jokes to excessive improper internet usage, it is safe to assume that, while at work, most of your virtual activities are being tracked.

Though it would be wrong to be overly paranoid about internet usage or sending personal correspondence while at work—Kersten admits, “Most managers understand a certain amount of personal correspondence is necessary during working hours, especially as employees clock longer days”—it is important that you be aware of your internet usage as well as your company’s policies regarding such.

Bear in mind that undue usage and repeated violations of your company’s internet usage policies, especially if such usage and violations interferes with performance and productivity, could serve as a pretext or a legitimate reason for termination.

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