Retail analysts say a half-billion dollars in lost work productivity occurs on the Monday following the annual shopping frenzy of Thanksgiving weekend. They blame it on employees surfing for bargains online on their work computers. But how do they get away with it? Most employers don't allow use of the Internet for personal reasons. Check with local companies about what their Internet use policies are, how vigorously they hunt down violators and how they punish them. The temptations of high-speed Internet access apparently are too great for human beings to resist.
Picture the dilemma.
You’ve got your eyes on a Circuit City plasma TV and the store is offering free shipping when you purchase it online.
Your home computer is so unreliable and slow the thought of fighting traffic, crowds and beleagured salespeople is preferable to watching a Web page load with all the urgency of a Sunday afternoon nap.
Your work computer is faster than Santa’s sleigh, but your company has a no-personal-use Internet policy.
Plasma TV. No plasma TV.
Something’s got to give.
"As a school district, we’re a little different since we’re a taxpayer-funded entity. Our policy is the Internet can only be used for the purposes of education or research," said Stacey Shangraw, spokeswoman for Peoria School District 150. "Are we looking over people’s shoulders and tracking where employees are searching on the Internet? No. If there was a decline in performance and we learned it was because of too much time spent online, would we investigate? Absolutely. It’s not a big problem with us."
The number of people shopping online continues its steep incline. A weekend survey commissioned by Shop.org showed that 72 million Americans, or 31.9 percent of adults, intended to shop online on Monday — known now as Cyber Monday. Last year 60.7 million shopped that way; in 2005, it was 59 million.
The study showed that 68.5 million of this year’s shoppers will shop from a work computer — or 54.5 percent of all office workers with Internet access.
The job placement consulting firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. of Chicago reported that Cyber Monday could cost employers upwards of $500 billion as their worker bees browse the L.L Bean Web site instead of working to close the Johnson account.
Employers could be placed in three different categories of shopping-at-work tolerance: none, some and "Did you see etoys.com is offering a Cyber Monday discount of $5 off orders of $35 or more? Oh, and Bivens from accounting is on line three."
For Peoria city employees, the policy is clear cut.
"Employees are encouraged to use the Internet for research, education and communications. Internet use is primarily intended for business purposes when accessed from any computer owned by and located on city property," the policy reads.
And further, "Employees’ use of the Internet is monitored for compliance with this policy. A record of all sites visited by employees will be captured, recorded, and sent to all department heads on a monthly basis."
The policy is a little looser at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.
"Our policy states that incidental and occasional use of the Internet is permitted during non-work hours," said hospital spokesman Chris Lofgren. "That means if you do things, like shop, it has to be on your own time. It can’t be during work time and anything you do can be monitored."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at (309) 686-3244 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.