Ethical Internet Use at Work

Your boss probably knows all about your misuse of the company internet connection, the IT department will have logged your every Facebook access, registered every viral email you sent, and the dozens of page refreshes you did when you were hoping to snipe that last eBay auction. You might think a good boss would be one who ignores your internet misuse whereas a bad boss would be the one to implement a draconian internet use policy for all staff. Somewhere between the two extremes is the boss who recognises the needs of staff, allows them some leeway to ensure high morale and expects motivated employees to do their job well in return.

But, there is a gap that has not yet been filled by the majority of the bosses that exist between the good and the bad, one that recognises that company success is not purely about the profit line but also takes into account the needs of the staff. More to the point, the lenient boss is losing profits, which can usually only be bad for the company and so employees in the long run especially in times of economic strife, while the draconian boss alienates employees, lowers morale and so reduces their effectiveness, which is again bad for the company in the long run.

There are 11 ethical issues that must be addressed in finding a middle-ground, according to Sharman Lichtenstein of Deakin University, Burwood, Australia: freedom of internet use, privacy, monitoring, surveillance, accountability, trust, censorship, information ownership, policy compliance, conduct. These should all feed into an internet use policy, she suggests.

You and your boss will most likely disagree on each of these ethical issues so any IUP must compromise to keep you both happy. Your boss might say that internet use is a privilege, whereas you think of it as a right in the workplace. Your boss will expect accountability involving monitoring and surveillance, but you might see that as an invasion of privacy. Censoring of the Internet would be sensible in the boss’s eyes but you might perceive it as nothing more than a restriction of freedom of speech and access to information. And, as to information ownership, could your boss own your tweets and Facebook status updates or even that blog post? They might think so, presumably you would not!

In assessing internet fair use by employees, Lichtenstein has surveyed businesses and internet users in Australia and the USA, and finds that the ten ethical issues must be balanced in creating an IUP that is simultaneously fair on staff and robust enough to protect the company.

Sharman Lichtenstein (2011). Ethical issues for internet use policy: balancing employer and employee perspectives Int. J. Technology Management, 54(2/3), 288-303

This article has been reproduced from Sciencetext technology website. Copyright David Bradley.

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About David Bradley Science Writer

David Bradley has worked in science communication for more than twenty years. After reading chemistry at university, he worked and travelled in the USA, did a stint in a QA/QC lab and then took on a role as a technical editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry. Then, following an extended trip to Australia, he returned and began contributing as a freelance to the likes of New Scientist and various trade magazines. He has been growing his portfolio and and has constructed the Sciencebase Science News and the Sciencetext technology website. He also runs the SciScoop Science Forum which is open to guest contributors on scientific topics.
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