Workers may love them, but the time-wasting potential of the internet and email is proving "a major headache" to many employers, according to a new survey.
The study by specialist journal IRS Employment Review found most organisations remained enthusiastic about the transformation that communications technology had brought to organisational culture and productivity. But almost half of the 63 organisations polled had also suffered through workers "excessive" internet and email use in the previous 12 months. About half had tried to cut the use of the internet and email and significant numbers restricted personal use to lunchtimes and breaks.
One respondent described the volume of personal email as "problematic and difficult to manage" and recommended that personal use should be avoided – a view echoed by many. Most employers agreed that a good written policy on electronic communications was essential and the majority (54) of those surveyed had a formal written policy in place.
The rapid development of mobile phone and imaging technologies meant that keeping policies up to date was also vital.
More than half of the respondents had updated their policies in the previous 12 months.
Although most policies aimed to restrict employees from activities such as accessing pornographic and gambling websites, few organisations had installed software that restricted access.
Other key findings included that a substantial minority of organisations restricted employee use of the internet, some restricted it to work-related sites and business use, others restricted personal use to lunchtimes and breaks and some banned personal use completely.
A total of eight organisations polled banned personal use of their email system with a similar number allowing only "reasonable" or limited use.
Of the organisations allowing personal use, eight encouraged staff to label non-work emails.
A growing number of organisations wanted to encourage good email habits and two-thirds either insisted staff completed email training or encouraged them to do so. Almost one in six restricted staff from taking photos or videos at work and six restricted the use of personal mobile phones. More than two-thirds monitored internet and email use. Just nine monitored neither. Most organisations also did not involve staff in drawing up policies.
IRS Employment Review managing editor Mark Crail said: "Pornography cases may grab the headlines, but for most employers it is the time-wasting potential of the internet that is of most concern.
"It's not surprising that so many want to clamp down on indiscriminate use – whether it's business or personal. What is surprising, perhaps, is that so few organisations have installed the technology to help them do this," he added.
"Having an effective, formal, written policy is essential – but only if it's kept up to date, is well-publicised and easily understood by employees," he stressed.