The risein e-mail and Internet use has led to a policy-writing frenzy. But firms shouldalso trust staff, asks Martin RosnerWithoutdoubt the most important new HR policies for the millennium cover Internet ande-mail abuse. Sordidstories about sending personal e-mails and downloading disgusting material nowhit the news headlines at regular intervals. If you read the papers, moreemployees are being sacked for this than anything else. Butis it all hype or is there a real danger to the security of our organisationsand the morals of our staff? For years, we have been turning a blind eye – atleast in most cases – to personal telephone calls to book our holidays or buyour car insurance, using company post to send a private letter and social chatsacross a cup of coffee. We are even told that such chats are essential for oursanity and are good for our business. They all involve company time and companyexpense in one form or another.Sowhy is it that e-mail or booking a holiday on the Internet are so uniquelydifferent? Why does e-mail cause us to rewrite our rule books and fear allsorts of dastardly deeds to undermine the security of our organisation?Therehave been some high-profile cases that demonstrate the dangers of e-mails andthe unacceptable use of the Internet. But we don’t vet every letter that goesout, nor do we generally monitor every phone call.Thebig benefit of all the publicity has been to highlight how easy it has becometo monitor what we write and to whom. Staffnow know that the computer, an essential part of our working life, also keepsthe secrets that we would prefer our managers not to know. Wealso know how easy it is to “protect our backs” by copying things to everyoneunder the sun and months later dramatically produce the evidence when someoneclaims they did not know about something. I have done the same myself when theunions claimed they hadn’t been consulted about a new policy and I was able toproduce the e-mail which “proved” that consultation had taken place.Clearly,the worst excesses of the Internet and e-mail – just like the abuse of thecompany telephone system – cannot be tolerated by any organisation and staffwho abuse the resources at their disposal deserve to go, and go quickly. Equally,we need procedures in place to warn staff about what is acceptable and what isnot.Butis it not unrealistic to prevent staff from using e-mail and the Internet forprivate use at all times? Is it not far better to have a policy that allowssensible use of these communication tools? Is it then not also important to laydown clearly and unambiguously what they can never be used for? Insummary, is it not better to trust our staff to use the facilities fairly andreasonably, rather than treat them as the “enemy” just waiting to send aprivate e-mail or download some porn as soon as you turn your back? Thereare, of course, other great dangers associated with the Internet and e-mail –inadvertently entering into contracts, sending things to the wrong people,viruses and security problems are just some of them. Perhapswe should spend as much time concentrating on these important issues as we seemto do trying to root out trivial and harmless use?MartinRosner is a senior manager at Hammersmith and West London College where he hasbeen responsible for putting together the College’s Internet and e-mail policy.He is speaking at an IRS conference on e-mail and the Internet on 1 May inLondon. More details on 020-7420 3500 or www.irseclipse.co.uk Net abuse: real danger or hype?On 27 Mar 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos.