The Email Police: What Would You Do? James Kitling thought about his conversation with Ira Romero earlier that day

The Email Police: What Would You Do? James Kitling thought about his conversation with Ira Romero earlier that day. He was not really surprised that the human resources (HR) department was concerned about the time that employees were spending on personal issues during the workday. Several departments were known for their rather loose management approach. Internet access for personal tasks, like shopping, using Instant Messaging services, and answering nonwork emails, had been a concern for several months. Recent news reports indicated that over 50 percent of large companies now filter or monitor email. Companies are also monitoring Web browsing, file downloads, chat-room use, and group postings. A survey published in the media reported that workers spend an average of eight hours a week looking at nonwork internet sites. As the director of IT, James was very dedicated to the effective use of technology to enhance business productivity. Although he was knowledgeable about technology, James was equally attuned to the ways in which technology can be abused in a work setting. He knew that some employees were probably using too much internet time on personal tasks. On the other hand, his company mainly employed professionals, administrative staff, and customer service personnel. All 310 employees were expected to use the computer a great deal throughout the day. At present, the company had a skeleton code of ethics and policy on the use of company resources, including the internet. A couple of managers, and now HR, had spoken with James about the prospects of monitoring employee computer and internet use. Ira’s inquiry about the software, how-ever, was a bit more serious. An employee had recently been formally reprimanded for downloading and printing ? nonwork documents from the internet. These documents were designed to help the employee’s spouse in a new business venture. Although the employee did most of the searching and downloading during lunch, the supervisor felt that this was an improper use of company resources. Other employees had been informally spoken with about their use of the internet for personal matters. Ira believed that this was a growing problem that definitely affected productivity. He had read the news reports and believed that monitoring software was becoming a necessary tool in today’s workplace. So far, James had been hesitant to purchase and implement one of these systems. The employee internet management software was somewhat expensive, running approximately $25 per computer. He felt that the software could cause employee trust to decline sharply, resulting in even greater problems than currently existed. After all, most (if not all) employees engage in some personal tasks during work hours, including making personal telephone calls, getting coffee, chatting with coworkers, and so forth. James wondered if the internet was that much different from these other personal activities. He recalled a discussion in a management class in his master’s of business administration (MBA) program, where it was revealed that employees in the early 1900s were allowed to use the telephone only to call the police. Thus, the telephone was once thought of as a great distracter, much as the internet is today. Ira and a few other managers were pretty firm in their beliefs about the internet monitoring system. James was still not convinced that it was the best route to curbing the problem. In his role, however, he was expected to provide leadership in developing a solution. What would you do?

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