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Frontline Supervisor: Internet Use at Work

Frontline Supervisor: Internet Use at Work

On 4 Mar 2016, in Frontline Supervisor, Management, Workplace

Each month, "The Balance Sheet" provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that's important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.

Q. What is Internet addiction and how can I spot whether Internet addiction is affecting productivity? How would you hold an employee accountable if you can’t “diagnose” the worker? It seems like a catch-22 to me.

A. “Internet addiction” is commonly discussed in the media and online, but it is not an official medical diagnosis yet because words like “addiction” (and “disorder”) are reserved for accepted medical conditions. Internet addiction also describes many compulsive uses of technology. The preferred term is “compulsive Internet use.” Other forms of compulsive use of technology include social media use, such as checking Facebook, gambling, gaming, pornography, shopping and financial trading. Any of these may negatively impact workplace and personal productivity. Beyond electronic discovery of usage, assignments not delivered on time may be a potential key indicator of compulsive Internet use. Lying about use of time on the job or lying about using the Internet for important business purposes is also common when someone is affected by this. To document productivity issues, assign measurable goals to your employee, such as a certain number of tasks that must be completed on time, weekly.

Q. Our company is trying to encourage employees to use less of the Internet for nonbusiness activities. What does the latest research say about these behaviors? Can BJC EAP help?

A. A recent research report from Kansas State University found that about 60 to 80 percent of computer use at work is not work-related. Young people spend more time on social media sites like Facebook, and older workers spend more time on personal financial matters. Both groups, however, engage in this behavior, sometimes referred to as “cyberloafing.” The research is not good news. Company policies against using the Internet for personal business are difficult to enforce, and they are typically ignored. Even when employees are warned, threats of disciplinary action may go unheeded. This makes enforcement of policies the most viable method of dealing with cyberloafing, but of course this can have other drawbacks. This is what makes BJC EAP so valuable. Refer employees who struggle with self-discipline in controlling their Internet abuse. Some may have compulsive use problems that BJC EAP will identify. Others may need other assistance to maintain self-discipline.

Q. I have a few employees who can’t seem to break away from Facebook. They use their smartphones to keep up with it. This is getting ridiculous, and it is negatively affecting productivity. Telling people they cannot use a smartphone won’t work, and I need to do something. Is this Facebook addiction?

A. Although Facebook addiction is not a medically recognized disorder, there are plenty of accounts of Facebook users experiencing serious, adverse effects on their social and occupational functioning from being unable to stay away from Facebook. Your first step is to share your expectations regarding the use or nonuse of smartphones during the workday. If a policy doesn’t exist, then insist on three conditions that must not be violated: 1) technology devices cannot be used in such a manner that they bother others or become an annoyance, 2) technology device usage cannot slow down business or work flow, and 3) technology device usage cannot cause loss of an employee’s focus on other matters important to the employer. You can then quantify violations of these standards and refer employees to BJC EAP who struggle to comply.

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