Weekly Wrap: Does Restricting Worker Web Access Ever Make Sense?

Here’s a good question that is at the heart of a new workplace survey: Does access to non-work related websites make for distracted employees?

According to a new study from OfficeTeam, 53 percent of administrative professionals who took part in the poll say that their company does not block social networking, shopping and entertainment sites. And for those whose employers do, more than one in five (22 percent) of workers admit to frequently using their personal mobile devices as a way to work around the company ban.

Employees were asked this question — “Does your company block access to the following websites?” Their responses (and multiple choices were allowed, so the total adds up to more than 100 percent):

  • Social networks — 31 percent;
  • Entertainment sites — 26 percent;
  • Online shopping sites — 23 percent;
  • None of these — 53 percent.

Some employees do workarounds

Employees whose companies do block access to some sites were also asked, “How often, if ever, do you use your own personal devices at work to access websites that are blocked by your company?” Their responses:

  • Very often — 9 percent;
  • Somewhat often — 13 percent;
  • Not very often — 20 percent;
  • Never — 58 percent.

So, what can we draw from this little survey?

Does blocking web access make sense?

Well, I take away the notion that there are still a lot of short-sighted companies who believe that blocking/restricting/censoring certain websites is a good workplace policy (does treating adults like children ever make much sense?).

And, I’m surprised that only about 20 percent of workers in the companies that do block access to certain websites are working around their companies short-sightedness on their own smartphones and personal devices. I would have expected that figure to be a lot higher.

“Even if companies don’t block access to certain sites, they may be monitoring employee activity for excessive use,” said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, in a press release about the survey. “Professionals should be mindful of how they are spending their time while at the office. Surfing the Web might provide a nice break from work, but it should never get in the way of it.”

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This survey of workers was developed by OfficeTeam, which describes itself as “a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of highly skilled administrative professionals.” It was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on telephone interviews with 449 workers 18 years of age or older and employed in office environments.

I used to work for a guy who went pretty nuts over monitoring the people who worked for him, especially keeping tabs on their computer usage. Yes, I know that some people will abuse the system, but that’s true everywhere.

And from my perspective, it never improved the work habits or productivity of the people working for this guy. All it really did was make for a cranky workforce bound together by one commonality — their hatred of the way the guy who owned the company treated them.

A flap for a Latino company using E-Verify

The problem I always had with this sort of management is that it shows a fundamental distrust of the workforce, and I have always felt that employers who start from that perspective end up with exactly the kind of employees they are worried about. That is, a workforce that is far more focused on their own mistrust of the people they work for than moving the company ahead and excelling at the job at hand.

Of course, there’s a lot more going on than employers worrying about what their workers are doing on their office computers. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Most popular companies with college business students. As this Bloomberg Businessweek article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle noted, the most-coveted job in the world for college business students, “isn’t with some big-name consulting firm or high-flying investment bank. For the fourth consecutive year, it’s with Google, whose incomparable perks and start-up-like culture have catapulted the Mountain View search giant to a seemingly permanent place atop an annual list of the most highly desired employers.”
  • Creativity takes another hit. My experience is that most managers and business executives don’t have the foggiest notion how to manage creativity or creative people. Is that one of the reasons why creativity seems to be dying in Hollywood? Short of the Week  this week shows how creativity is waning in Hollywood, as measured by the Top 10 grossing films of the year from 1981 through 2011. It’s an interesting analysis (as you can see from the graphic on the left) that should make you sit up and think.
  • A big flap for Latinos over using E-Verify. A California grocery chain founded by immigrants that caters to Latinos has come under fire for agreeing to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to check the immigration status of new hires. According to the Los Angeles Times, the announcement last month that the Mi Pueblo Food Center was “participating in a voluntary federal program that checks the immigration status of all new hires elicited anger and confusion from workers and customers alike. … Company officials said that, although they were critical of E-Verify, they felt “tremendous pressure” from immigration officials to sign up. Community organizers have pledged to launch a shoppers’ boycott Oct. 8 if Mi Pueblo founder Juvenal Chavez, who is now a legal U.S. resident, does not change his mind” about using E-Verify.
  • Does coping with overwhelming homework lead to success on the job? Miami Herald workplace writer Cindy Krischer Goodman (she will be one of the keynote speakers at the 2013 TLNT Transform conference) is finding more parents who see value in the crush of homework so many schools seem to be dumping on our kids. She writes, “One father I know convincingly argues that homework, even volumes, is critical preparation for career success. “It’s not realistic for us to raise kids to think they’re going to work 9 to 5, leave and they’re done,” he said. “These kids are going to need to be well prepared to handle all the meetings and projects and emails that come at them in the workplace.”
  • The F-bomb goes mainstream. Who knew the most popular swear word in the English language is now acceptable? Philadelphia magazine notes that, “With the “F-bomb” now anointed to the sacred text of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, it is — by definition — a conventional word, acceptable in any setting. It made the cut in August, one of 100 or so annual additions to the venerated linguistic institution, founded in 1898. … Like it or not, “fuck” has gone mainstream. Deal with it, Merriam. You too, Webster.”

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.


1 Comment on “Weekly Wrap: Does Restricting Worker Web Access Ever Make Sense?

  1. Thanks, John.  Your post is a testament to the fact that most companies are still stuck in the old paradigm of work:  quantity and obedience as the mainstay of productivity.  I used to work with an executive who believed that casual attire led to a break down in discipline, and fought it tooth and nail until it was imposed upon him.  Command and Control is the only way to run the railroad.

    The bad news for those companies is that the talent they want and need will migrate elsewhere, leaving them with an noncompetitive workforce trying to succeed in a rapidly changing business climate.  Its all about leadership, autonomy, collaboration, and a supportive work climate.  Management as a verb is becoming a thing of the past; organizational structure will undergo radical change.  There is an exciting new world being transformed right in front of us, and those companies that ‘get it’ will reap huge benefits as a result.  Easy?  No.  Risky?  Yes.  It’s the Star Trek business model:  Going Where No Man Has Gone Before!  So buckle up; enable the Warp Drive, and enjoy the ride.

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