Thought for the day:Who guards the Net guards?

Incisive columnist and IT expert Colin Beveridge looks at a hot issue of the day.Beware: careless surfing costs jobs - it's...

Incisive columnist and IT expert Colin Beveridge looks at a hot issue of the day.Beware: careless surfing costs jobs - it's official! According to a recent survey of more than 500 major human resources departments, the three top internet-related reasons for employee dismissal in Britain's top firms are ogling cyber-porn, loitering in chatrooms and dealing with personal e-mails at work.

The same survey, as reported on, goes on to reveal that the average personal use of Web facilities at work has now risen to 30 minutes per day. It may yet go even higher, further eroding the working day.

Such findings will back up those many sceptical line managers who have long railed against the universal provision of Web access at work.

"We told you so," will be their first reaction to the concrete proof of such wide-scale cyber-skiving, closely followed by that warm feeling of self-satisfaction that only the truly smug enjoy.

Make the most of it guys, while you can, because the same survey also points out another extremely interesting statistic - that the most prolific offenders are those people who have their own offices which, by reasonable inference, probably means that they are in a management role.

Oops, that's rather embarrassing, isn't it? Those very worthy people entrusted with overseeing others are just as likely, nay, more likely, it seems, to be part of the problem - rather than part of the solution.

You don't have to be Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes to understand why.

After all, every wrongdoer relies on the appropriate combination of motivation and opportunity to perpetrate their misdeeds, supplemented with a better than evens chance of not being discovered, either during or after the act.

So, a cosy little office, away from prying eyes is ideal for "getting up to mischief on the Web". Much more conducive than an open-plan room, where you are never quite sure who sees what you are really doing with your computer.

That's why I believe the HR survey when it claims that office-ownership is a significant factor in Web misuse.

Of course, it's always nice to have a bit of privacy at work, especially when you regularly have to deal with sensitive conversations and discussions, but it speaks volumes to me that viewing pornography at work has become the number-one cause of internet-related dismissal.

Ten years ago, these problems didn't exist. Most, if not all, offices were completely free from the more sordid aspects of life, other than some fairly dodgy coffee machines. But now, with three clicks of a mouse button, even the seediest human activities can be summoned from the gutter and onto the desktop.

There are those who genuinely believe that the Internet pornographers are the pioneers of the new technology frontier - clever people and Web-savvy to the nth degree, they were the first community to make online secure payments work, the first community to perfect streaming video and they are probably already beavering away on the next mobile commerce standard: XXXML.

Nevertheless, their wares have no place in the workplace and must be eliminated within the firewall by any means available. We now have some useful software analysis weapons but even these are not infallible.

I have found that the best way of stamping out this insidious material is to publish departmental records of all Web sites accessed through the network as a matter of routine, suitably anonymised, of course, to avoid individual condemnation.

It's amazing what transparency and collective peer pressure can do to influence individual behaviour, regardless of any relative positions on the corporate ladder

What's your view?
Are managers hypocrites when it comes to personal use of the Web? Let us know with an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Colin Beveridge is an interim executive who has held top-level roles in IT strategy, development services and support. His travels along the blue-chip highway have taken him to a clutch of leading corporations, including Shell, BP, ICI, DHL and Powergen.

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