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‘Tis the season for online shopping, but buyer beware at work

The holiday shopping season is in full swing. For many busy people that may mean shopping online at work in an effort to get it all done. Some employers may take a lenient stance as efficient, hardworking employees do a bit of online shopping during this stressful season. Still, employees should be aware of their employer’s policy regarding personal use of equipment.

The big retail shopping day, Black Friday, was followed by Cyber Monday when workers returned to jobs after the long Thanksgiving weekend armed with family gift lists. But online shopping network QVC.com reports that Mondays are almost always the biggest shopping day of the week. And Visa, the credit card that processes 47% of all online purchases, says weekdays bring much higher volumes of sales than weekends.

Running the numbers

A poll conducted by the temporary accounting staffing firm Accountemps finds that only one in five Americans will shop online at work this holiday season. On average, those who answered “yes” said they expected their online shopping would take approximately 2 1/2 hours.

However, a survey conducted by Shop.org finds that 54.5% of office workers with Internet access, or 68.5 million people, will shop at work. That figure is up from 50.7% in 2006 and 44.7% in 2005.

A Washington Post survey finds that younger, male workers make up the largest percentage of online shoppers, and the Northeast region of the country has the highest percentage overall although the percentages for all regions follow closely.

Gift buyers should be aware that visiting shopping Web sites at work is often against employer policy as is using company-owned equipment for any personal reasons.

With 650 employees at its office site in Jackson, Southern Farm Bureau Insurance Company has filters on computers that screen out 85% of shopping sites. Vice president of human resources Billy Sims said the monitoring software has been on and off for years but has gotten more sophisticated. In fact, the system does such a good job, sometimes an employee doing research may be prevented from accessing certain sites and will have to get the device removed.

“I think our system does a pretty good job of screening out these things. People are good at multi-tasking these days, and may be able to work and shop online at the same time,” he said. “These computers are the property of the company and are not for personal use. That’s in our policy.”

Mississippi Power Company has an electronic use policy that was recently updated to address Internet use at work, according to spokeswoman Cindy Duvall.

“The Internet and other electronic communication resources are great tools, and Mississippi Power feels strongly they need to be used appropriately,” she said. “They are primarily provided for official and authorized company use and purposes.”

Equipment usage at the Gulfport-based utility stays consistent throughout the year and does not change during the holiday season. She said the policy states, “Limited personal use of company Internet resources is acceptable as long as it does not create material costs for the company, interfere with work duties or violate laws or company policies. Users shall be accountable for all Internet activity associated with their accounts.”

Unintended consequences?

Johnny Fears, owner of Active Data Communications in Tupelo, said employers can control online shopping. “It can be controlled for a price. There are filters that do a good job of screening out sites, and we do install them for some of our clients,” he said. “From what I’ve read, the statistics are staggering as to the amount of dollars businesses lose every year when employees are shopping online.”

However, he added that employers coming down too hard on employees can damage employee morale and cause a greater loss.

“It might be better for employers to have certain times that employees can access these sites,” he said. “Maybe it can be 7:30 till 8 o’clock in the morning or from noon to 1 p.m. or for 30 minutes after quitting time.”

Too busy to shop?

Sims said managers try to trust employees at Southern Farm Bureau and like to think their workforce is doing the right thing. “Anything that comes up is handled by managers who have a rapport with employees,” he said. “We know most of our employees are not abusing the use of company equipment. We have no set time to send out memos regarding the usage policy, but may send it out if a problem arises.”

He added that the lean workforce that services 4,000 agents across 10 states, representing more than one million policy holders, is far too busy to shop at wor

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.k.


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