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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Personal Use of Business Computers

Dear Sue: I own and run a small company. I have many terrific employees who are dedicated and hard workers. Every employee has a computer on his or her desk, and plenty of work to do to occupy their time. I bought these computers for business use, and am becoming concerned about the amount of time being spent on personal computer use. I do not understand how my employees can justify this during work hours. The computers are mine, not theirs, and are a business tool, and therefore shouldn’t be used in any other manner.

After doing some investigating to determine just how much time was being wasted, I was shocked to learn that some people spend hours each day on non-business related computer use. Sports scores are being checked, investments are being monitored; some people are shopping for furniture or clothes and others are just writing to friends. I called a meeting and told everyone that from now on, the computers are to be used for business purposes only, and that I do not want any personal e-mailing or Internet surfing going on. I plan on monitoring their use over the next few months.

You would think that I did something terrible. People are grumbling and angry, but I stand by my decision. Why should I pay employees who are supposed to be working for me to have conversations with friends or check their stocks? Am I wrong? - Frustrated

Sue Says: I can understand your frustration and your desire to get as much productivity out of each employee as possible. I understand that these computers belong to you and the business, and should be used primarily for business purposes, but I do have reservations about you banning all personal use. If you become too restrictive, employees may grown more resentful and ultimately lose some of their loyalty and dedication to you and the business.

Do you allow your employees to use the telephone? After all, I am sure each employee has a phone on their desk, and probably makes and receives personal calls. And, if it is infrequent, you probably don’t have a problem with it. However, if hours were spent on the phone, you would need to say something, and request that calls be kept to a minimum, but I doubt you would ban all phone calls.

For many people, e-mail has merely replaced the phone; have you noticed, perhaps, that employees are using the phone less often, thus increasing their time on the computer? And if you continue to monitor, do you distinguish between work time and break time? Is it okay for an employee to use the computer for personal use during a break? I assume that the reason your employees are grumbling about this new rule is because it is very restrictive. It sounds as though you may have approached this in an authoritative manner, and it is possible that your employees feel as though they’ve been treated like little children. You reprimanded them, and then punished them by taking something away. Perhaps there is some middle ground, and a way to find a happy medium.

I agree, it is inappropriate for employees to be using the computer during business hours for personal needs, but if it is kept to a minimum, some use can be allowed. Allowing an employee to send or receive e-mails is really not much different than allowing an employee to make or receive phone calls.

If you make things too difficult or restrictive, your employees may grow resentful and feel as though you are treating them like prisoners; not a good set up for happy, productive employees.

Now that you have started the dialogue about the personal use of computers at work, why don’t you collectively see if you can all come up with a solution? This way you involve everyone in the process of learning how unproductive internet use can be, and you empower them to come up with their own solutions. Good luck – let me know what happens.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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