It’s Cyber Monday – Will You Let Your Employees Shop at Work?

From the HR blog at TLNT.
From the HR blog at TLNT.

A year ago, in a different time and a different place (and a different blog), I asked this question: “Why do only a third of all workers plan to shop online while at work? Why not more?”

I asked it then, as I do again now, in reaction to the latest CareerBuilder survey that says that nearly one third of workers plan to shop online at work during this holiday season. They found that only 29 percent of workers “say they have holiday shopped online at work, on par with previous years,” and “of those planning to shop online this year, 27 percent will spend one hour or more.”

The survey was pegged to Cyber Monday – today – when the predictions are that 17 percent of Americans will buy online, and that 60 percent of the people doing so will do it from work. That’s just a fraction of the projected $32 billion that consumers are expected to spend online during November and December this year, but it still makes Cyber Monday the biggest single online shopping day of the year.

So, it brings me back to my question? Why do some companies still try to limit employees shopping online at work?

Why you should let workers holiday shop online

I thought it made sense last year, and I think it still is something that forward-thinking managers should consider in 2010, too. Here’s the gist of my 2009 argument:

Your most highly engaged workers are probably your hardest-working ones as well. And as so many Silicon Valley tech firms and dot-coms have recognized, offering perks and benefits that help workers to better manage their lives also frees them up to spend more time focusing on the job. In other words, cutting workers some slack and recognizing that you can’t compartmentalize work and home life all that well anymore actually can fuel higher levels of employee engagement.

Encouraging workers to do some online shopping this holiday season will: A) show workers you’re willing to be flexible during a tough year; B) help them to better balance their work and home lives; and c) probably help, ultimately, to make them more engaged and focused on the job.

Plus, encouraging online shopping (within reason, of course) also discourages workers from feeling that they have to sneak around and try to do it on the sly, which happens all too frequently in all too many workplaces.

And one more thing: Isn’t this one of those little perks that you can offer your workforce that has nothing to do with money? Isn’t it one of those little “psychic” benefits that consultants always tout as being highly valuable in lieu of more dough?”

Rosemary Haefner, the VP of Human Resources at CareerBuilder, says that, “Employees need to be aware of how much time they are spending online, regardless of the time of year. Most employers know that their employees may use some time during the workday for Internet shopping, non-work emails and other personal matters, but employees need to be mindful of whether their employer has specific guidelines in place restricting these behaviors.”

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Forward-thinking companies cut workers some slack

She’s right, of course, but as the survey also notes, some 21 percent of employers have fired someone for using the Internet for non-work related activities, although only 5 percent of employers have fired someone for holiday shopping online at work.

Now, I am not advocating that employees be allowed to simply web surf and shop all day on the company’s dime.

What I am saying is that smart, forward-thinking companies know that it makes sense to cut their workers some slack. They know, as so many in Silicon Valley have know, that you get the most out of your people when you treat them like adults and help them to balance work and life. And giving them the ability to do some of their holiday shopping online, from the office, when they have some downtime will go a long way to helping fuel higher levels of employee engagement.

So cut your workers some slack today. Don’t get too worked up about Cyber Monday and about workers doing a little of their shopping online. Given all that America’s workforce has gone through the last few years, they surely deserve it – and, you don’t want to play cyber cop anyway.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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2 Comments on “It’s Cyber Monday – Will You Let Your Employees Shop at Work?

  1. I actually think of it less about a “perk” and a “benefit” and being flexible and more about fairness and realizing that an employer can have high expectations of an employee and expect a lot of them, but they don’t own every minute of them. If you can get a message on your Blackberry from your boss at any hour, or from a customer at any hour, and respond to it, should you not be able to take a few minutes of personal time during the “work day” also?

    I have a (job-seeking) friend who’s in sales at an Orange County warranty sort of company and frequently is asked to have conference calls during dinner (when there is no urgency); fair enough, but then shouldn’t he able to cybershop for a few minutes at noon?

  2. I completely agree that employers need to cut their employees a little slack. You’re bound to surf the net every once in a while; it is so easy to get distracted because the internet is so vast.

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