Monday, November 28, 2016

As sure as today is Cyber Monday, your employees are shopping from work

Today is Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the holiday season. In fact, it is estimated that today will be the biggest online shopping day ever, with over $3.36 billion in sales.

And, guess what? Given that most of those doing the shopping will be spending the majority of their prime shopping hours at work, from where do you think they will be making most of their Cyber Monday purchases.

Consider these statistics, pulled from CareerBuilder’s 2016 Cyber Monday Survey:
  • 53% of employees use time at work to shop online.
  • 49% use their personal smart phones or tablets to shop at work.
  • Yet, only 11% of employers have fired someone for holiday shopping on the internet.
In other words, more and more companies are allowing employees to shop online from work. 

Yet, just because companies allow a practice to occur does not mean it makes good business sense. Should you turn a blind eye towards you employees’ online shopping habits, not just today, but across the board? Or, should you permit more open access?
I am big believer in open internet access (within reason). I advocate for fewer restrictions for personal internet use at work (including Cyber Monday shopping) for two reasons: it provides a nice benefit to employees, whom we ask to sacrifice more and more personal time; and it’s almost impossible to police anyway.

We no longer live in a 40 hour a week, 9-to-5 world. Employees sacrifice more and more of their personal time for the sake of their employers. Thus, why not offer some internet flexibility both to recognize this sacrifice and to engage employees as a retention tool?

Moreover, it is becoming increasingly difficult for employers to control what their employees are doing online during the work day. Even if an employer monitors or blocks internet traffic on its network, all an employee has to do to circumnavigate these controls is take out his or her smartphone 
(which the CareerBuilder survey shows more employees are doing anyway). By trying to control employees’ internet habits, employers are fighting a battle they cannot win. The iPhone has irreparably tilted the field in favor of employees. It not worth the time or effort to fight a battle you cannot win.

Instead of fighting a losing battle by policing restrictive policies, I suggest that employers treat this issue not as a technology problem to control, but a performance problem to correct. If an employees is otherwise performing at an acceptable level, there is no harm is letting him or her shop online from work, on Cyber Monday or on regular Wednesday. But, if an employee is not performing, and you can trace that lack of performance to internet distractions or overuse, then treat the performance problem with counseling, discipline, and, as a last resort, termination. Just like you wouldn’t bring a knife to a gun fight, don’t bring a technology solution to a performance problem.

As for me, I did most of my online shopping over the weekend. So, it’s back to work for me.