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One-third of CIOs still ban this – to which I say 'Bah, humbug'

Letting employees holiday shop on the company dime isn't the end of the world
Cyber Monday shopping
If your employees spend a little time at work crossing off their holiday to-do list, it's not necessarily a bad thing.

By Todd Humber

One-third of CIOs still ban this — to which I say, bah humbug

Have you caught the holiday spirit yet? It’s not like you haven’t had time — my local Costco started putting out the Christmas trees and the snowmen in mid-August.

But with Dec. 25 less than five weeks away (sneaking up on us like it always seems to), the minds of employees are more likely to be filled with dancing sugarplums than quarterly reports. Shopping for the holidays really kicks into high gear after Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with the ubiquitous Black Friday deals that have crept north of the border.

Odds are, you’re going to suffer a slight productivity drop on Cyber Monday — Nov. 28 this year — as employees search the web for that perfect gift at the perfect price. A Robert Half survey found 49 per cent of workers across North America confess they plan on spending time shopping for online deals on Monday.

And nearly half of them will do it when they’re bored, not necessarily on their breaks.

This personal time on the company dime stuff used to surprise me. It wasn’t that long ago most employees — even office workers — didn’t have Internet access. When I first started at Thomson Reuters in 1998, we had email (remember Lotus Notes, anyone? CC mail?) but no connection to the worldwide web. When IT made a change, and suddenly Internet Explorer started working, my supervisor freaked out because she thought it was a mistake. She forbade us from browsing the web for any reason for fear of reprisals from above.

The numbers around employees doing personal stuff at work are no longer shocking. But what is attention grabbing is the fact one-third of CIOs in the Robert Half survey said their companies still block access to online shopping.

By now, I would have guessed that number to be pretty much zero. Most employers have figured out that letting employees use company time, equipment and bandwidth to get a few errands done isn’t a big deal. It’s more efficient for everyone if a staffer can spend two minutes doing some online banking instead of jumping in their car and driving to the bank.

If an employee can spend 15 minutes browsing and buying — crossing one more thing of the list in a season with endless errands that culminates with the in-laws, siblings, nieces, nephews, grandchildren and more ringing the doorbell expecting turkey and all the trimmings — then she’s going to be more focused on her job.

This isn’t a plea for unfettered web access. Firms can, and should, monitor Internet use to ensure employees aren’t abusing the privilege. Websites featuring malicious, illegal and undesirable content should be blocked. (Downloading torrents, steaming copyrighted materials, pornography and gambling are all boilerplate restrictions few would question.)

Excessive use of the Internet for personal tasks on company time will always be unacceptable. But for quick things like banking and online shopping? It all boils down to trust. Do you have faith your employees will do the right thing for the business?

You should. After all, you trust them every day with critical tasks and driving the business forward. So try not to stress over how many items they have in their online shopping cart. Instead, just think about how grateful they are to cross one more task off their holiday list so they can focus on the task at hand.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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