Scratch the Bah Humbug!

More companies allowing employees to shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday while they’re at work

By Aliah D. Wright Nov 19, 2014

As the online holiday shopping season kicks off, employers are stifling their inner Scrooge and allowing workers to shop while they’re on the clock.

A new study from Robert Half Technology found “more than one-quarter (27 percent) of senior IT professionals interviewed said their companies allow unrestricted access to shopping sites—an increase of 17 percentage points since 2012. Additionally, 42 percent said they allow access but monitor activity for excessive use.”

What’s more, less than one-third (30 percent) of respondents said their firms block access to online shopping sites, according to a news release on the survey.

Why the shift?

“If you think about the amount of time it would take for someone to go out and do their shopping during lunchtime … that’s a time-consuming process,” said Hive Tech HR President Jeremy Ames, who is also a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) Technology and HR Management Special Expertise Panel.

Employees may actually save time by shopping online, he said.

Robert Half, an IT staffing firm, conducted more than 2,400 telephone interviews with chief information officers from a random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees in 24 major U.S. cities.

“Employers recognize that some flexibility is needed to help workers successfully manage their time during the hectic holiday season,” said John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology. “Allowing professionals to attend to the occasional personal errand at work, like holiday shopping, can make all the difference to them during this busy time of year.”

However, Reed advised professionals not to abuse workplace policies that allow online shopping. “Employees should still limit their shopping time on the job,” he said. “It doesn't reflect well on any professional to be seen bargain-hunting rather than attending to business at hand.”

The IT staffing agency offered these tips for employees who shop online while at work:

Learn the rules. Before heading to the websites of Amazon or Walmart, familiarize yourself with your organization’s web usage policy. “Most employers have rules about sites or hours to avoid. If the policy is unclear, play it safe and save your shopping for before or after work,” the company stated in the press release.

Limit surfing. Just because you’ve been given a green light to play Santa on Cyber Monday doesn’t mean you get to spend the entire day decking the Internet halls with boughs of dough. If your intent is to spend the bulk of your time seeking deals on Cyber Monday, it’s best to take the day off. Or use your smartphone or other personal device away from the office. Try to limit your shopping activity to short transactions while working.

Log out of accounts. Don’t forget to safeguard your personal information by logging out of online merchant accounts on your work terminal.

Ames said that companies should be prepared for a loss of productivity.

Ames added that allowing employees to shop online while at work may not be a good idea because of the many data breaches that have occurred just this year alone. Allowing employees to shop online on company equipment may put organizations at a greater risk.

“Viruses are traced to retail purchasing, so the more you [allow employees to shop from work], the more you’re opening up to potential breaches or anything security-related where they can be jeopardizing company data.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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