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February 2003, Vol. 126, No.2
Workplace e-mail and Internet use: employees and employers beware
Charles J. Muhl
The widespread use of the Internet and electronic mail ("e-mail") has transformed the way business is conducted in the typical American workplace. Written communication to almost anyone in the world now can be completed nearly instantaneously; information about any subject encountered in a daily job task can be retrieved in seconds from the Internet through multiple search engines. These technological developments have benefited employers and employees alike—employers in accomplishing business goals and employees in performing their duties.
Undoubtedly, the Internet and e-mail also have given employees a new means of escaping briefly from long days at the office. What sports enthusiast, for example, hasn’t taken a quick peek at ESPN.com on the Internet during working hours to see the latest sports news? Who hasn’t interrupted his or her work for a moment to send a quick note to a friend about the coming weekend’s social events?
A recent extensive survey1 of employers and employees to gauge their opinions on Internet and e-mail use at the workplace revealed that both groups view non-work-related use of the Internet and e-mail as appropriate, even though, in their mutual opinion, such use may hinder employees’ productivity. As a general matter, most employees believe that some personal Internet or e-mail use at work is acceptable and that employers should not have the right to monitor what sites employees are visiting or what e-mails they are sending and receiving. More than 87 percent of employees surveyed stated that it was appropriate for them to surf non-work-related Web sites for at least some portion of the workday. Of these, some 55 percent indicated that it was appropriate for employees to spend anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes on the Internet or dealing with personal e-mail each workday. Nearly 84 percent of the employees surveyed indicated that they regularly send non-work-related e-mails each day, with 32 percent sending between 5 and 10 such messages. Almost 57 percent of employees felt that this personal Internet and e-mail use decreased their productivity.
This excerpt is from an article published in the February 2003 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 In September 1999, Vault.com, a Web site devoted to assisting people with a job search or building a career, "surveyed 1,244 employees and 1,438 employers to determine how Web surfing and e-mail use affect productivity and quality of life at work" (See Vault.com Web site.) The survey addressed employees’ Internet and e-mail use at work, employers’ monitoring of that use, and the effect that such use had on employees’ productivity. See http://www.vault.com/surveys/internetuse/internetuse.jsp, last visited Dec. 17, 2002.
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