Scoffing at the threat of employer sanctions, the nation's office workers are using workplace technology more and more for personal reasons.
Although nearly half (45%) of office workers say they have been told that their use of the Internet, e-mail, and office phones is being monitored, many apparently just don't care, according to study conducted by Harris Interactive® on behalf of lawyers.com.
Seven of ten (69%) adult office workers in the United States say they access the Internet at work for non-work purposes, and the same proportion make or receive personal calls on their work telephones. More than half (55%) send and receive personal messages on their work e-mail accounts.
And the flouting of workplace technology policies is getting worse: Almost three-quarters (73%) of office workers say they are either as or more likely to use the Internet at work for personal reasons than they were two years ago, and 68% are as or more likely to send or receive personal e-mails on their work accounts.
"It's not a mystery to most employees that their bosses may be reading their work e-mails or checking out the Web sites they visit on work computers, yet employees apparently are more willing than ever to ignore that potential scrutiny and engage in risky work behavior," said attorney Alan Kopit, legal editor of lawyers.com. "Using employers' technology for non-work purposes can be the same as stealing in some instances, and may be grounds for termination. Employees should have no expectation of privacy at work, and are well-served to learn and abide by their offices' policies on such matters."
The problem is most acute among younger office workers. Employees age 18 to 34 are the most likely to use their employers' technology for personal reasons, with nearly three-quarters (72%) checking their personal e-mail accounts during work (compared to 61% of all office workers), and 77% using the Internet at work for personal reasons (compared to 69% of all office workers).
"Younger employees are generally more comfortable with technology than their older counterparts, and are in the habit of continually using the Internet and e-mail, at work or not," said Kopit. "They may not differentiate between 'work' and 'personal' when it comes to some activity, which can put them in potential hot water with employers."
And younger office workers are more likely to expose their private lives to their employers through their use of social networking websites. Seventy-one percent of workers age 18 to 34 maintain some type of personal website, the most common of which are personal blogs or networking accounts such as those on MySpace or Facebook, maintained by 52% of young workers. Thirteen percent currently have an online dating account.
"We've seen instances where current or potential employers reviewed content of personal websites, and held employees accountable in different ways for what they post," said Kopit. "Young people tend to live lives very openly online, which may have unintended repercussions when it comes to their employment."
Employee violations of technology usage policies directly affect the bottom line of small businesses, Kopit said. "Diverted employee resources hurt the productivity of the business, and in some cases the installation of certain technologies on employer equipment, such as instant messenger services, could compromise the security of employer communication systems," he said.
"Employers should evaluate current practices in place regarding technology use and, as necessary, implement additional systems to ensure the business is protected," Kopit said.