THE IMPACT OF INTERNET USE WITHIN THE WORKPLACE
The use of internet enabled technological tools such as Smartphones, iPods and other internet-devices including computers within the workplace has had both positive and negative impact on employee productivity. This paper reports on the findings of a secondary research on the impact of internet use within the workplace. The findings reveal that internet use contributes to improved employee morale, increased satisfaction level and enhanced employee engagement. Further, it contributes to enhanced information sharing and development of good personal relationship among work peers as well as between managers and subordinates. On the other hand, internet use within the workplace contributes to diminished productivity especially when organizational internet use policy does not restrict internet use. In such a case, employees tend to take most of their working time propagating personal interests. Similarly, excessively restrictive policies on internet use demoralize employees and reduce their job satisfaction level thus resulting to diminished productivity. Therefore, companies that develop sound internet use policies and monitor their implementation process stands to benefit. This is because the monitoring process enhances compliance thereby driving organizational goals.
Table of Contents
As Milligan (2006, p.1) reports, in the recent years, the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the workplace has rapidly grown. The modernization of ICT tools such as wide world web, the internet, Smartphones, iPods and other related devices have helped facilitate commercial transactions within the workplace. Milligan (2006, p.6) argues that ICT proliferation has contributed to the emergence of a knowledge society that is able to effectively and efficiently work in real time. Nevertheless, the use of ICT tools in the work place has not always produced positive results and some employers have criticized it. This paper seeks to provide a critical review of the problems and benefits of internet use within the workplace.
Internet addiction within the workplace interferes with work life as employees spend most of their time surfing or chatting instead of working. Therefore, productive time is lost leading to negative consequences on the overall productivity of a business organization (Coker, 2011, p.245). Qinyu, Xin, Anil and Long (2009, p.50) define internet misuse as any intentional act by workers to utilize the internet for non-work related activities within the official working hours. Misusing the internet has been associated with ruinous activities such as online piracy, theft of Intellectual property and dissemination of offensive materials. A good example of internet misuse is the scenario where three council workers in Wales (UK) lost their jobs in 2007 owing to their excessive time spending on the eBay auction site while at the workplace. The Union officials reacted by holding bosses responsible for the actions owing to their act of permitting employee to use internet in the workplace (BBC News, 2007, 21 September).
According to Grodzinsky and Gumbus (2006, p.30), statistics have proved hysterical misuse of internet privileges. Research shows that 70% of web traffic takes place within the working hours (between 9am and 5pm) and is linked to accessing pornographic sites. Further, 80% of the companies involved in the study acknowledged that its employees had abused the internet by carrying out non-work related activities. Business managers are scared about the deleterious impacts off internet use in the workplace and are in constant surveillance of what employees are doing with the internet (Anandaraja, 2002, p.54). This has resulted to the formulation of internet use policy in many working environments. However, Anandarajan (2002, p.54) argues that internet usage policies are insufficient without frequent monitoring and screening for compliance. A study conducted by Green field and Davis (Cited in Ivarsson and Larsson, 2011, p.64) revealed that 30% of companies utilized in the pilot study had fired some employees for improper internet use in the workplace. Ivarsson and Larsson (2011, p.65) perceive inappropriate use of internet in as workplace deviance. Essentially, workplace deviance is any intentional behaviour that contravenes conventional norms of an organization thereby threatening organizational wellbeing.
According to Ivarsson and Larsson (2011, p.66), activities such as browsing pornographic sites, online gambling, online chatting and online music downloading are referred to as offensive behaviours. Employees who adopt such deviant behaviours find challenges reaching their optimal productivity level with others failing to respond to requests from customers in a timely manner. The use of internet in the workplace results to diminishing productivity and decreasing monetary returns (Ivarsson and Larsson, 2011, p.67). This results from compensating employees for non-worked hours thereby eating into company’s profits. For example, in 2012, it was found out that American employers inappropriately paid deviant workers about $175 million during the NCAA basketball 2-day tournament period.
As Fludd (2014, p.20) affirms, many employees have a tendency of embracing activities that consume company’s productive time. Such activities include checking social network accounts, texting and online office gossip among others. These activities are perceived as productivity enemies since they suppress organizational output due to poor employee performance. As Fludd (2014, p.20) reports, many employers use job-specific tactics to prevent loss of work productivity due to the use of ICT devices and the internet within the workplace. Some of such tactics include censuring information entering the internet, blocking specific internet sites, monitoring internet usage and forbidding the use of Smartphones in the workplace. However, these preventive measures work only if strict monitoring mechanisms are put in place (Fludd, 2014, p.20).
In the light of Ugrin and Pearson (2008, p. 29), Smartphone and internet use have resulted to radical changes in information exchange. As Davis (Cited in Ugrin and Pearson, 2008, p.29) reports, in 2012, the American treasury department realized that 51% of employee work time was being wasted answering private e-mails besides doing online chatting and online shopping. Grodzinsky and Gumbus (2006) reports that internet browsing within the workplace diminishes productivity since employees utilize company time to their advantage. Such time is misused e-mailing friends, planning non-work related vacations, doing online shopping and checking personal e-mails (Grodzinsky and Gumbus, 2006). Scholars such as Lim have recognized internet as a tool that propagates hidden idling commonly known as cyber loafing. As a result, companies invisibly lose productive time as employees pretend they are working.
According to Ugrin and Pearson (2008), internet misuse culminates to legal issues, privacy issues, security issues and cyber bullying. This gives organizational management rationale for restricting internet use in the workplace (Ugrin and Pearson, 2008, p.29). Many organizations result to blocking some websites so that they are inaccessible to employees. However, monitoring the internet for updates to determine emerging deleterious sites is very cumbersome. Therefore, organizations develop policies that govern internet use in the workplace and the punishment guidelines for employees found misusing the internet. This strategy has proven effective in curbing non-befitting use of the internet and its affiliate communication devices (Ugrin and Pearson, 2008, p.30). According to Qinyu et al.,2009, p.50), in 2005, a study conducted by the American management association revealed that 55% of the companies reviewed employee e-mail messages, 76% screened website connections and 65% used URL blocking software to forbid employee from accessing specific sites. In addition, about 25% of the companies terminated employee contracts for being involved in e-mail misuse while 26% of the companies’ unleashed employees for internet misuse (Qinyu et al., 2009, p.50).
In view of Anandarajan (2002, p.53), organizations and individuals are considered as productive factors that yield output. Therefore, non-work related use of the internet culminates to diminished work input and reduced work output. As Anandarajan (2002, p.54) reports, there is a certain buffer zone within which internet use is productive within the workplace. However, above or below the buffer zone, internet use results to reduced work input and consequential reduced work output. This is as illustrated in the following diagram.
Figure 1: Evolutionary productivity function and web misuse.
Source: Anandarajan (2002, p.54)
From the above figure, the area over the buffer zone represents a situation where employees are given excessive freedom to use the internet resulting to internet abuse. On the other hand, the zone below the buffer zone represents a scenario where the management exercises excessive control over internet use resulting to diminished worker morale hence diminished productivity. According to Anandarajan (2002, p.54), the social contract theory can be utilized to explain internet abuse within the work place. When viewed under the social contract lens, internet abuse is a cost that counteracts realized benefits with an organization since each benefit should be accompanied by a cost.
In 2006, Garrett and Danziger (2008) conducted a study to determine the degree of cyber slaking within the workplace. Utilizing a sample of 1024 respondents, the scholars found out that employees holding high job status had a high probability of abusing the internet more than those holding low status jobs. Therefore, Garrett and Danziger (2008, p.291) recommends internet use policies that are control- oriented in order to avoid loss of employee morale and reduced productivity. In view of Coker (2011, p.238), the belief that excessive internet browsing for personal gain is abusive is intuitively generated. Therefore, moderate internet browsing for personal use within the work place does not attract negative outcomes in terms of productivity. In fact, moderate internet browsing creates employee morale and these results to increased productivity. Scholars such as Seymour, Nadasen, and Lim et al (Cited in Coker, 2011, p.238) reiterates the fact that moderate internet browsing within the workplace is somehow justified. Therefore, total restriction of internet use within the workplace is extremely deleterious to the organizational productivity since employee morale is killed. Scholars According to Anandarajan and Simmers (2003), controlled web browsing is beneficial since it helps employees achieve equilibrium between personal life and work life. This induces gains such as diminished stress, improved time management and informal learning through the internet.
Coker (2011) endeavoured to carry out a survey on 700 randomly selected office workers to determine the impact of internet use within the workplace. About 268 surveys were done 74% of which were conducted on females and the rest on males. The outcome showed that internet browsing within the workplace is positively correlated with work productivity as long as such internet browsing does not consume more than 12% of work time. Further, employees using internet in the workplace reported 9% increased productivity rate than their counterparts who did not use internet in the work place (Coker, 2011, p.245). However, excessive web browsing was linked to diminished productivity since employees were not able to complete assigned tasks within the scheduled time. Excessive use of Smartphones within the work place has been associated with decreased work productivity (Pitichat (2013, p.2).
According to Ivarsson and Larsson (2011, p.64), advancements in technological innovations especially the linkage of technological devices with the internet has had enormous impact on business operations and employee work life. Employers have endeavoured to trigger business development by allowing employees to access the internet using computers and mobile phones within the workplace. This has resulted to blurring of the margin between private life and work life (Ivarsson and Larsson, 2011, p.64). Grodzinsky and Gumbus (2006, p.2) reports that internet has been harnessed to perform tasks such as product marketing, marketing research and data analysis thereby reducing business cycle times. In the light of Anandarajan and Simmers (2004, p. 251), though web browsing for personal use might be considered unproductive, it has been linked with increased job satisfaction. This is because individuals who are contented with information needs are happy with their jobs and are satisfied than those who have been deprived information access.
Simmers, Teo and Anandarajan (2006, p.3) credits internet for positively transforming workplace setting. Internet has contributed to employees having increased flexibility since they are detached from constraints of information, time and place. Internet acts as a learning and communication tool for employees enabling timely conveyance of information over vast geographical distances. According to Simmers et al. (2006, p.3), in 2004, 65.8% of internet users within the workplace acknowledged that going online while at the workplace improved their morale towards work. As Anandarajan (2002a, p.271) reports, internet is a tool that reduces communication cost in the 21st century enabling companies remain competitive. As an external communication tool, internet propagates information sharing in the area of e-commerce, customer support, supply chain management and marketing (Anandarajan, 2002a, p.271. On the other hand, internet is used as an internal communication tool within organizations thereby promoting knowledge sharing, knowledge management and coordination of operations between different departments (Anandarajan, 2002a, p.271). Internet has transformed organizational competitive environment and helped blur the line between work life and personal life. Anandarajan (2003, p.272) presents a model that befits internet management within the workplace in order to achieve optimal results.
Figure 2: A model of internet management.
Source: Anandarajan (2002a, p.273)
Based on the above model, internet use within the workplace brings maximum benefits when internet management policy is properly managed. However, when internet access is strictly prohibited, the outcome is deleterious since employees are demoralized besides remaining unknowledgeable. On the other hand, when internet use is autonomous (no restrictive controls), employees tend to spend most of their time utilizing the internet for their personal gain. This means that company time is misused thereby contributing to reduced productivity (Anandarajan, 2002 a, p.273).
According to Pitichat (2013, p.3), the use of Smartphones (to browse) within the workplace promotes employee autonomy making them feel satisfied. For example, companies such as Ford Motor have enhanced employee morale by allowing them to bring their Smartphones in the workplace. Besides, Smartphones play a key role in promoting positive relationship between employees in the workplace. Pitichat (2013, p.5) argues that managers should turn Smartphones as engagement tools to promote a good relationship between them and their subordinates. A case is given where a company listed in the Fortune 500 has utilized Smartphones to build positive relations among employees using Microsoft share point and internal blog. As a result, employees have developed enhanced motivation and unfathomable relationships among them (Pitichat, 2013, p.5).
As Pitichat (2013, p.5) reports, the use of Smartphones within the workplace promotes sharing of knowledge. As a virtual interactive platform, Smartphones have offered managers and employees a chance to share information through cloud computing. A good example of a company that has utilized internet as a knowledge-sharing tool is the General Electric (GE) Company. GE had developed an online platform through which its internal communities can get answers to their queries through its internal experts who are in excess of 100,000. Besides, Ford Motors has also relied on Smartphones to eliminate help desk support costs (Pitichat, 2013, p.6). A model relating Smartphone use and increased work output efficiency is as illustrated below.
Figure 3: The relationship between Smartphone use and work efficiency.
Source: Pitichat (2013, p.6)
Based on the above model, the use of Smartphones within the workplace promotes employee autonomy, good employee relations and knowledge sharing among employees. This culminates to increased work engagement and job satisfaction that in turn contributes to increased work efficiency (Pitichat, 2013, p.6).
In order to alleviate the negative consequences of internet and Smartphone use within the workplace the following should be done:
- Internet use policy within the workplace should be developed, implemented and carefully monitored to promote compliance. This would help eliminate internet abuse within the workplace hence eliminating reduced work productivity.
- Organizational management should deploy technology experts to filter information entering the internet sites within the workplace. This would restrict the kind of information that employees would access from the internet sites without demoralizing them.
- Organizations implementing ‘no internet access policy’ should nullify such policy and instead develop a restrictive internet use policy. This would promote knowledge sharing and employee engagement hence creating employee satisfaction.
- Organizations should allow the use of Smartphones and the internet in the workplace but develop an ethical code to guide their use. This is crucial in avoiding internet misuse in the workplace setting.
From the foregoing discussion, it emerges that excessive internet use within the workplace culminates to reduced productivity due to unrestricted autonomy. Essentially, employees spend most of the time focusing on personal issues rather than focusing on achieving organizational goals. This leads to loss of productive time hence productivity decline. On the other hand, excessive restriction of internet use leads to decreased employee morale and loss of satisfaction. This contributes to reduced productivity owing to the fact that employees do not share information and are not able to effectively reconstruct their impaired relations. Therefore, organizations should develop sound internet use policy, carefully implement and monitor employee compliance. This would help achieve optimal results in relation to the gains of internet use within the workplace.
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