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NINE TO FIVE

My staff is wasting time surfing the Web Add to ...

THE QUESTION

I supervise some staff who don’t report to me. Some spend a lot of time on Facebook, handling personal e-mail, job searching, online shopping, writing essays for courses they’re taking and wasting time online in other ways. Someone senior to me unsuccessfully tried to address the issue at a staff meeting with no changes happening as a result. (I think because she wasn’t clear enough). She said she’d talk to staff one-on-one, but she hasn’t. Over all, the required work is getting done but I still find it unacceptable. (It’s against my work ethic and there are work-related things the staff could be doing). Is there anything I can do – or should I stay out of it?

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THE FIRST ANSWER

Doug Nathanson

Chief human resources officer at Canadian Tire

Technology and social media have become ubiquitous in our daily lives and, as a result, employers need to set guidelines around workplace use. Any such restrictions have to be carefully tailored to the applicable business environment (for example, some roles require monitoring the Internet as part of employment) and must be structured to ensure that while employees have some down time to “plug in,” personal technology activities do not disrupt productivity or cause undue distractions during the work day.

It sounds like your colleagues are taking advantage of the leniency of the organization. Given that you – as a manager – believe their online activity is detracting from work, it is incumbent on you to seek to amend the situation. Speak to your fellow supervisors to highlight the issue and collectively address it so that it is clear to everyone that you are aligned. Management should develop an Internet usage policy (if one does not already exist) that is clear on what is permitted and when.

When discussing the issue with staff, do not single anyone out but be very explicit as to what is expected of all employees. Explain how excessive personal activities negatively affect the entire organization and that there will be consequences for those who abuse the system. Make clear that this is not a case of trying to exert unjustified control over the team, rather it is a necessary action to keep the workplace functioning efficiently and effectively for everyone’s benefit.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Marc-Etienne Julien

President of Randstad Canada

Before anything, go to the source of the problem. Are your employees online because they’re bored? Do they have enough work, or is the work they have to do unclear? Make sure your expectations are clear, both in terms of deadlines and quality of work. Then you can address time spent on social networks more efficiently.

Controlling online use is getting harder and harder. If employees aren’t shopping on their work computer, they could be shopping on their phones – and it is only going to get more pervasive as younger generations flow further into the work force. Of course, no one should be actively job hunting while at work, but when jobs are being promoted on Facebook and Twitter, everyone is a passive candidate these days, and it can be hard not to click on an interesting opportunity.

Which leads back to why it is so important to get your team fully engaged – they’ll be less likely to apply for those interesting opportunities in their off-time. If they are more engaged with their work, they’ll be less engaged with their social networks.

However, if your team is performing well, pressuring them to modify this behaviour may have more risks than rewards. If you don’t want to risk losing team members over a difference in process and style, avert your eyes when you walk by their screens and worry only about the work being done, not the shoes being bought.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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