Electronic Monitoring in the Workplace

Is your boss watching your internet use at work

Electronic monitoring means you don't know who's watching you at work
••• MEHAU KULYK / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

You may think no one will notice if you just take a few minutes out of your workday to play an online game, check your social media accounts and email your friends. If you are using your office computer for those activities, there's a good chance your boss is well aware of what you are doing. According to the American Management Association, 66% of employers who responded to the organization's Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance Survey monitored their employee's internet connections in the workplace and their online activity even when they aren't on the job.

Electronic monitoring may take many forms, this survey showed. Many employers (45%) reported tracking content, keyboard strokes and time spent at the keyboard. Forty-three percent said they store and review computer files. Your online activities away from the workplace aren't beyond your boss's scrutiny either. If you think it's okay to post things about your company on blogs or social media, you should know that some companies troll the internet to see what their workers have to say about them.

What are employers so worried about? Productivity, of course, is a big issue. If workers spend an excessive amount of time online, they are probably not doing their jobs. That's not their only concern, however. Many say they conduct electronic monitoring because they are worried about lawsuits and security breaches.

If you don't know if your boss is monitoring you, take a look at your company handbook. Is there a policy regarding internet and email use. If you work in Connecticut or Delaware, your employer has to let you know if they are using electronic monitoring. Although other states don't require this, many companies don't keep it a secret. Some, however, might. You are always better off if you simply assume your employer is watching you and avoid activities that can get you into trouble.

Ask yourself if going online during the workday is more important than your job. Many employers, according to the survey, report firing workers for inappropriate internet use at work. Twenty-eight percent said they dismissed individuals for email misuse and 30% indicated they fired workers for inappropriate use of the Internet.

Be Wise When You Go Online

Even if you are certain your boss isn't keeping on eye on your online activity, you should limit it. It isn't wise, nor is it productive, to spend a lot of time online while you are supposed to be working. If you look like you don't have enough to do, your boss will wonder why.

Some jobs involve having a lot of downtime. While your presence is required, you may spend hours with little to do. Your boss may allow you, during those times, to partake in other activities as long as you are ready to work when needed. He may even let you spend some of that quiet time online. Here is when good judgment is essential. Don't think that having your boss's permission to spend time online means you can do whatever you want, visit whatever sites you want, and email to whomever and about whatever you want. Certain activities are off limits.

Are there places out in the real world where you would feel uncomfortable running into your boss? Then you should stay away from those types of “establishments” in the online world as well. You may be able to travel around the web anonymously by activating the privacy mode on your browser or clearing the history, but your company may still be able to track your movements. Let's not forget the number of employers who admitted to doing electronic monitoring of workers' online activity. Imagine how embarrassing it would be if you got caught in, let's say, a compromising position.

While you are free to use the internet however you wish on your own time, you should still avoid doing certain things. As mentioned earlier in this article, some employers keep an eye on social media and blogs to see if anyone is talking about them. Don't say anything negative about the company, your boss or your coworkers. Never reveal any company secrets.

The Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance Survey showed there is a high likelihood that your employer is keeping a close eye on your online activity. That's a compelling reason to be prudent about what you do online while in the workplace and outside of it.