You’ve got mail — and the boss knows

March 8, 2008 – 2:55 PM

More than nine out of 10 (92 percent) managers check up on their employees’ use of e-mail and the Internet at work, according to a new survey of 192 companies by Bentley College’s Center for Business Ethics.

The study by the Waltham, Mass., college found that 26 percent monitor employees’ online activities all the time, not just when something gives cause for concern, and only half of the respondents considered monitoring an issue to be covered in employee training sessions.

All companies in the survey are members of the Ethics Officer Association, the professional association exclusively for managers of ethics, compliance and business conduct programs.

Among other findings:

  • Almost all companies participating in the survey (92 percent) allow their employees reasonable personal usage of their electronic systems, yet fewer than half actually define what they consider reasonable.
  • As with personal use of the telephone, employers do not want work patterns, productivity or performance to be disrupted; and where that starts to happen is the point at which most employers draw the line on personal usage.
  • Another major consideration for employers, apart from misuse of company time, is the protection of corporate interests. By certain kinds of personal usage of e-mail and the Internet, employees can put themselves into conflict with the legitimate interests of their employers. Interviews revealed that employers’ greatest concerns in this area pertain to minimizing corporate risk exposure.
  • Less than half (44 percent) of the companies surveyed involved their ethics officer in the monitoring process, and:
  • A quarter of the companies admitted that they do not have in place any procedures or safeguards to ensure that the monitoring process is not abused;
  • Nearly half do not have written guidelines, policies or procedures by way of monitoring guidance;
  • Two-thirds of respondents do not require the monitoring department or person to sign a confidentiality agreement.

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