We’ve all done it! It’s 8 a.m. on Monday and you are sitting at your desk getting ready to tackle a new week! Of course, you can’t be expected to lunge right into your work. Not just yet! This is your time for Facebook, personal emails, and online shopping. Think about it … you haven’t even felt the effect of your Starbucks coffee. Work can wait.

The Sneaky Click Gives it Away
It’s almost funny that as soon as a co-worker or manager approaches his desk, the mediocre employee develops a quizzical look on his face, almost wondering what you could need this early in the morning. He is right in the middle of confirming his Amazon purchase, and you have the audacity to interrupt him. At this point, he maintains eye contact with you, the intruder, while simultaneously clicking on the “X” that ends his online fun. It’s amazing how adept he has become at closing out of an internet window while maintaining an intelligent conversation with someone. In some cases, he closes multiple windows. When he hits a snag, he shuts down the entire system by holding down the power button for what seems like an hour!

A Few Stats
A recent Gallup poll found that employees spend an average of 75 minutes per day using computers for non-business activities, which translates to roughly $6,250 per year for each employee. Let’s extrapolate that conservative number by 400 employees, or a midsize company, and that equates to an expected loss of $2.5M for the year. Many of us know employees that spend far more than 75 minutes surfing the web. In fact, some employees are on the web managing personal affairs several hours per day.

I often ask my university students the following question: “In the past year, how many of you have gone to work and done absolutely nothing related to your work?” Surprisingly, more than half of the hands usually are raised, and most of these students hold professional positions within their organizations.

Middle Ground?
Some employers understand that restricting employees from using the computers for personal use is likely not feasible, and probably not the best policy for morale. Employees today have smartphones and tablet PCs to keep them connected, and thus they can find other ways to stay distracted. Therefore, having an employee-friendly policy on internet usage can provide a win-win situation. One employer only allows personal use during the lunch hour, and that level of access seems to provide a balance. However, given that the web is available anytime, employees have the opportunity to abuse the policy.

Managing the Click
As an employer, I understand that employees are going to use company resources for personal use. My approach is to provide clear expectations, include a deadline, communicate the level of quality expected for the work, and measure the employee’s performance based on those agreed requirements. If the employee performs at the expected level, the noise of those sneaky clicks is tolerable.