Cyber Monday: Your boss is watching you shop and is probably OK with it

CHICAGO — It’s Cyber Monday, and much of your workday has been spent clicking through 50-percent-off offers on winter sweaters. Is your boss watching?

Chances are good that your holiday deal-seeking is not going unnoticed at work, even as employers become more relaxed about letting workers shop online on company time, a recent survey shows.

Forty-eight percent of employers say they monitor online shopping activity for excessive use, and 25 percent say they block online shopping sites outright, according to a survey from staffing firm Robert Half Technology. But those numbers are down significantly since 2012, when 55 percent said they monitored online activity and 33 percent said they blocked shopping sites.

Further, the share of employers that allow unrestricted access to online shopping sites has risen to 25 percent from 10 percent in 2012. Robert Half polled more than 2,500 chief information officers and 1,000 U.S. employees.

Randy Wolf, regional vice president of Robert Half in Chicago, said companies are realizing that giving employees flexibility to do their holiday shopping online makes them more productive and contributes to higher morale.

“Employers are finding that employees are not abusing the usage and are more productive because they are able to accomplish something online versus running out and spending an hour or two outside of the office,” Wolf said. A fifth of employees say shopping online makes them more productive because they don’t have to leave the office.

Even among the 24 percent of employees who said they have been caught shopping online at the office, only 15 percent said they were reprimanded. Thirty-one percent said it led to them exchanging shopping tips with their boss.

But another survey on the topic finds that companies may be cracking down.

Twelve percent of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder said they have fired someone for online holiday shopping while at work, up from 8 percent who said so last year. More than a third say that they care about time employees spend online on nonwork activities even if their job performance is not affected.

Thirty-six percent said they monitor the sites their employees visit, up 4 percentage points from last year, and 56 percent said they block employees from accessing certain websites at work, up 3 percentage points from last year, according to the CareerBuilder survey, which polled 2,326 hiring and human resources managers and 3,321 employees.

That policing may prove futile as more people use mobile devices to shop, however. The survey found that 42 percent of workers are doing holiday shopping on their phones or tablets, up sharply from 27 percent last year.

About half of U.S. employees use time at work to shop online, the survey found. People who work in sales, financial services and information technology are the most likely to do so.

Concerns about cybersecurity may cause some employers to tighten their policies. The Robert Half survey, while finding that employers have become more lenient with online shopping at work since 2012, saw an uptick in companies monitoring employees’ Internet use over last year, which Wolf attributes to cybersecurity concerns.

Employment attorney Joe Yastrow said most company handbooks he is familiar with state that employers reserve the right to monitor their employees’ Internet usage on company equipment and take action if it becomes excessive.

“Most employers have better things to do than spy on their employees,” said Yastrow, a partner at Laner Muchin, but the monitoring can be a useful tool to find out what the problem is if an employee is not getting his or her work done.

Other companies have a live-and-let-shop ethos.

Chicago-based software maker Centro said people can do what they wish with their free time during the workday as long as they do their jobs.

“We’ve always had the core philosophy that everyone’s an adult and they should act accordingly, and we’re able to trust them to get their work done,” said Elles Skony, talent and development senior business partner at Centro.

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune

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