Shoppers spent about $900 million Monday not by going to the mall but by pointing a computer mouse and clicking from the comfort of their desks. Undoubtedly, many of those sales on what retailers bill as Cyber Monday came from workplace computers on company time, raising the uncomfortable question: Was anyone actually working on Monday?
With online sales growing steadily each year, the Internet has become a regular venue for Christmas shopping for many. And the omnipresence of desktop computers has made it possible to shop without ever leaving the office.
Many are doing exactly that, found the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, an information technology trade group. Employees will spend on average, nearly two working days – 14.4 hours – shopping from a work computer this holiday season, its survey of more than 1,200 consumers found. Ten percent plan to spend at least 30 hours browsing the Web pages of retailers while at work.
That’s great news for online retailers such as amazon.com, macys.com and bestbuy.com, but not so great for the companies those shoppers work for. A separate survey by the same group found that a quarter of information technology professionals estimate their company will lose $15,000 or more per employee in productivity during the holiday season.
Online shopping can also lead to viruses, spam and phishing attacks that can invade workplace computers.
“It’s unrealistic to think that companies can stop the use of work computers for online shopping,” said Robert Stroud, the trade group’s vice president.
That doesn’t mean they won’t try to keep a lid on all the cybershopping. But policies on personal use of the Internet at work generally vary by size of the employer, said Kelly Schoening, a lawyer with Crestview Hills-based law firm Dressman Benzinger Lavelle. “The smaller they are, the less likely they are to have a policy or the looser they are about it,” Schoening said.
Some large companies forbid any personal use of the Internet, and some have the technology and manpower to monitor employee Internet use, she said. “I have one client who monitors all usage,” she said. “I encourage employers to do it.”
But the policies of large employers vary. Procter & Gamble says it has no policy forbidding personal use of the Internet as long as it doesn’t interfere with productivity.
The region’s largest employer, University of Cincinnati, has a policy that states “university resources may only be used for official university business and not for personal gain or convenience.”
Most firms allow limited personal use on work computers during free time or before or after work, said Mary Spadaro, a manager with Employee Management Services, which handles human resources administration for other companies.
Some stretch that into company time, she said. “The reality is, employees are going to be on the Internet,” Spadaro said.
“Especially with small- to mid-sized companies, they don’t really monitor because they don’t have the resources,” she said.
One small company that does is Bottom Line Systems of Crescent Springs. The health care consulting firm uses Internet tracking software and can block Web sites, said Lynette Koenig, human resources manager. But it can only do that for about half of its 180 employees. The rest work offsite. “We’re pretty much on the honor system there,” she said.
Some employees may be counting on the cluelessness of their IT department. The trade group survey found that IT staffers estimated employees would spend only nine hours shopping on their work computers, 37 percent less than what the employees actually said they would spend« Back to news