Internet and Email Use in the Workplace

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Internet and email use has unquestionably become a necessary part of conducting business for the vast majority of organizations and their employees. According to the bi-annual ERC Policies & Benefits Survey, the percent of organizations with employees accessing the internet has remained fairly constant since 2008, at about 96% of non-union employees. The largest variation in this accessibility is found, unsurprisingly, among non-union maintenance and production workers, where access may vary according to specific job duties or departments at about 30% of organizations.

With such a large proportion of the workforce accessing the internet at their place of work, a heated debate over the pros and cons of internet and email use for personal purposes while at work has naturally evolved. Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on or what fits best into your organizational culture, clear policies around internet and email use are key- so let’s take a look at what organizations are doing in Northeast Ohio and across the country to effectively manage this 21st century workplace challenge.

By once again turning to the Policies & Benefits survey data around internet and email use at work, it is clear that organizations vary both in terms of their workplace policies around these issues as well as in how they are turning these policies into practices at their organizations. For example, in the 2013/2014 results, only about one-third of respondents in Northeast Ohio explicitly prohibit personal internet and/or email use during work hours, a 7% drop from the 2009/2010 survey. The national data shows a similar, but less consistent downward trend, with about 36% of respondents from the 2013/2014 survey indicating they do not permit personal use.

Despite these smaller policy numbers, approximately 78% of the same national sample blocks employee access to certain websites and 65% report monitoring employee internet & email use at their organizations. These numbers are fairly consistent between both the local and national samples, with Northeast Ohio employers only slightly less restrictive in terms of their blocking activities (75%) and slightly more restrictive in terms of their monitoring activities (67%).

Another area commonly referenced within this debate over personal email & internet use in the workplace is social media access. As social media grows as a business tool, organizations appear to be easing up somewhat in terms of accessing these sites at work- locally, 6% more organizations now allow employees to access social media sites during work hours than did in the 2011/2012 Policies & Benefits Survey. However, much like the internet and email more generally, this access is not without restrictions- just under half of respondents from another local ERC survey, have a policy specifically addressing social media use.

Additional Resources:

ERC Policies & Benefits Survey

This survey reports policies and benefits information for 1,595 participating organizations throughout the country, including 88 from Northeast Ohio. It is our most detailed and comprehensive source of information about health insurance practices, as well as many other benefits and policies.

2012 ERC Social Media in the Workplace Survey
Reports trends in social media policies and practices among 114 Northeast Ohio employers on issues ranging from what restrictions are placed on employee social media usage to how organizations are engaging various social media platforms for official business activities.

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