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The HR Dilemma: Employee Misconduct or Just Work-Life Balance

According to a survey by Captivate, a digital media company, over half of employees spend time in the office on their Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites. Then there’s online shopping, running personal errands and even getting a manicure while on the clock. As the workday gets longer and the traditional 9 to 5 job seems to fall by the wayside, employees are improvising in ways that take advantage of a more connected, mobile workplace. In the process, companies are left wondering whether employees are just creatively managing their work-life balance, or if the growing list of workarounds is really employee misconduct. For best practice employee relations, what should managers and human resource practitioners be doing about it, if anything?

Surfing the Net at Work

The Internet has become an integral part of life, both at home and in the workplace. For a busy employee, surfing the net is a means to efficiently organize online grocery deliveries, sign-up for school activities for children, make a doctor’s appointment or check a bank balance. With access to Internet in the office, employees readily use the company Wi-Fi to manage their personal lives. Notwithstanding consuming bandwidth that other employees may need for their work, employees using the Internet while “working” are being paid.

It is more difficult for employers to monitor employee Internet use than one might think. In the same Captivate survey, a striking 68% of workers admitted that they used the office Wi-Fi for activities that were not work-related, and to make the situation worse, in the 2014 Salary.com survey, Wasting Time at Work, 24% of respondents voted Google search as the biggest online time-waster surpassing Facebook from the previous year’s survey. For an employer, it is simply impractical to try and determine whether an employee’s use of Google search is for business or personal use.

For best practice employee relations, companies should have a clear, written Internet Usage Policy which covers substantive areas such as protecting confidential company information as well as broader concerns such as personal use of the company Wi-Fi. It should encompass employee usage of company email, technology devices such as computers, iPads and mobile phones as well as surfing the net while at work. For reference, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has an excellent Computer, Email and Internet Policy sample on its website. Certainly, anti-harassment and discrimination policies outlined in the employee handbook should make it clear that sending inappropriate messages, posts or images are forbidden uses of the Internet by any employee. While computer monitoring software has its limitations, it is also a potential tool for organizations that wish to view employee activity on the office Internet.

…employees start checking their work email by 7:42 a.m. and finish their workday around 7:19 p.m. after arriving home from the office.

Getting to Work Late

During the week, banks and post offices open from 9 to 5. For employees with a full workday, they may feel they have little choice but to do a bank, post office or errand stop before getting to the office, even if they arrive late. There are school shows for children that are usually in the morning, and there is the occasional doctor or dentist appointment too. Employers have caught on, and in an interesting survey by Mozy, Cloud and mobile apps free us from 9-to-5 working, 73% of European bosses polled were relaxed about their employees arriving late to work. The reason — managers assume their employees are also putting time in outside the regular workday. In fact, the Mozy survey confirmed that on average, employees start checking their work email by 7:42 a.m. and finish their workday around 7:19 p.m. after arriving home from the office.

For best practice employee relations, establish clear expectations of employee responsibilities, milestones and job assignments pivoting the focus to results as opposed to the nuances of how the employee spends his/her workday. If arriving late to work is acceptable under certain circumstances, human resource policy should still specify the company position and any protocol surrounding tardiness, such as when to notify a manager. It is worth mentioning that chronic lateness is a form of employee misconduct, and as discussed in a recent Wall Street Journal article, We Know Why You’re Always Late, a possible indicator of a more serious personal situation. When a pattern of poor attendance or lateness starts, make sure the manager promptly meets with the offending employee, reiterates the policy, the impact of his/her lateness on the organization as well as co-workers, and of course, consequences for future occurrences.

Being Unavailable

The new mobile workplace has ushered in flexibility for workers and often challenged conventional modes of communication for employers. With 83% of hiring managers predicting that telecommuting will be more prevalent in the next 5 years, flexible work arrangements mean that workers will spend more and more time outside the traditional office space. If the company has a last minute deadline to meet or an unexpected issue arises with a client, what happens if the management team reaches out to an employee that is working remotely during regular business hours, and (s)he cannot be reached? Emails, phone messages and texts go unanswered. What about employers trying to contact employees after the regular business day ends?

When employees cannot be contacted, there are many possible reasons, and they range from minor to life-threatening. The employee may have just stepped away from his/her desk, or the behavior could be symptomatic of a more serious pattern of absenteeism. There have been cases of medical emergency, and when the timeframe extended over several days, the first indicator of job abandonment.

For__ best practice employee relations__, human resources should develop guidelines that specify employee rules of communication in the new mobile paradigm, including:

  • notification protocol should an employee be unable to come to work
  • absenteeism policy
  • company definition of job abandonment
  • parameters surrounding employee obligations to respond to after-hours emails, texts or calls
  • rules specific to employees working remotely

In reality, the mobile workplace requires a company to define a communication policy for employees, which even encompasses any expectation of availability outside the normal office environment.

There is no doubt that work-life balance is more important than ever, and luckily technology is modifying the workday in ways that employees may never have thought possible. But, employers are wise to be wary, and they should tailor their employee relations policies to account for some of the new pitfalls, because the pursuit of work-life balance has never been a rationale for employee misconduct.

Deb Muller
Deb Muller

Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, the employee relations case management solution that companies trust to help them track, investigate, and analyze employee issues the right way.