Companies Have Options for Monitoring Employees

OK, businesses now have proof of their suspicions: Employees are wasting the boss’s time — billions of dollars of company time, according to a July AOL/Salary.com survey.

So, what’s a boss to do? Well, contrary to what many guilty employees would like to think, they are not simply sitting back and taking it. Almost 80 percent of employers monitor employee Web site connections, according to a survey by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute, “2005 Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance Survey.”

Managers are putting in place computer programs that track almost everything employees do at their work stations, from Web surfing and e-mail to word processing. That expenditure can run into millions of dollars for some companies.

Monitoring Solutions

The Street.com reports that International Data Corp., a market research firm, estimates that the market for Internet access control and monitoring software increased about 80 percent, to US$63 million in 1999, from $35 million in 1998. The market should grow at an annual rate of 55 percent.

There are several software options available, among them:

  • Accountability International’s Minitrax System. Takes the approach of blending management/employee purposes with a less intrusive method and helps make employees responsible for their own Internet usage.
  • Websense. Enables businesses to monitor, report and manage Web usage logs. Websense blocks access to inappropriate sites and provides administrators reports on use from a back office server.
  • Symantec. Offers content scanning services and an application program interface (API) to protect against viruses and other unwanted content, including spam.
  • Novell’s Border Manager. Includes support for Internet access control and content filtering.

Plus there are a handful of others.

Most of these monitoring tools work behind the scenes, making employees aware they are being watched only after they are called to task by their boss, which might result in a slap on the hand or, for more serious charges, a firing.

However, with Accountability International’s (AI) Minitrax System, instead of surreptitiously monitoring employees, the software encourages self-management that begins with an open dialogue between manager and employee and supplies tools that promote voluntary behavioral change. It puts on the user’s desktop a real-time, visual reminder describing length of time the user spends on the Internet.

Sharing Responsibilities

The Minitrax System will enhance tools such as Websense, Symantec, etc., that provide defensive mechanisms that block access to known sites. However, at “sin sites,” there is a constant process to avoid detection and blocking tactics, and users know how to get to sites when they think they are not being monitored.

Symantec and other monitoring tools also provide spam controls and security mechanisms that are important.

Minitrax can add another layer of security to these products by providing a tool that engages the user in managing how much time he or she spends and motivates the user to manage where he or she traverses on the Internet by providing constant reminders during Internet browsing. “Surprisingly,” says AI CEO Deon Fair, “the majority of ‘wasted’ time on the Internet is simply browsing.”

Legal Issues

With greater and more invasive monitoring comes the possibility of lawsuits from employees for invasion of privacy. However, the law is well established in this area and employers have a right to protect their businesses from abuse, including situations that could prove to be a liability. It is in the company’s best interest, though, to tell its employees they are being monitored.

The main motivation for companies to monitor employee Internet use is legal liability. For example, sending pornographic pictures via e-mail or viewing such images on a computer screen visible to other workers can play a part in a sexual-harassment lawsuit. Once the information comes to an employer’s attention, the company must try to stop the abuse or the company can be held liable.

“Organizations today are faced with the problem of how to harness the Internet’s productive value while controlling the significant potential for abuse,” Fair says.

Surfing Uses Bandwidth

Another compelling motivation to monitor employee Internet usage is that surfing uses bandwidth. Multiplying casual surfing by thousands of employees can reduce a company’s bandwidth and cost a company thousands of dollars. In the case of AI, customers say that their bandwidth consumption is generally reduced by 45 to 60 percent after installing the monitoring product. Clearly non-business browsing on the Internet is costly in terms of consumption and dollars.

Jim Uno, vice president of Sonartec Golf in Carlsbad, Calif., has seen significant bandwidth savings since installing Internet monitoring tools. He says, “Sonartec has experienced an estimated 90 to 95 percent reduction in non-essential Internet surfing since using the Minitrax Solution. This reduction is in large part due to the awareness factor of the monitoring system and the flexibility for management in using the tools.”

He added, “I estimate that the payroll savings in efficiency is in the tens of thousands every month. Even more importantly, the opportunity cost of each employee’s time in generating additional revenue is hundreds of thousands per year. This within a 24-person company. I think this is a great tool for any business large or small.”

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