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K-State Today

March 14, 2012

March Madness or March badness: Policies can help employees know limits on tracking scores online or with phone, ethics expert says

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

It's NCAA Tournament time and that means finding a game or score online during the workday can be just a click away.

A business ethics expert at Kansas State University says if employers want to cut down on employees using work computers to find out the latest scores from March Madness, it's best to have a policy in place and to let employees know about it ahead of time.

Diane Swanson is the von Waaden professor of business administration and professor of management at the university's College of Business Administration. She teaches classes and performs nationally recognized research in the area of business ethics.

Swanson says letting employees know about new policies regarding computer use is the first step in getting their cooperation in following the policies.

"If a policy is put in place, then it would also be wise to let employees know the reason for it and train them about the parameters of the policy," she said. "This could help in getting them to buy in."

Swanson also says a policy on using an office computer to keep tabs on the games doesn't need to be overly strict.

"For instance, employees could be allowed to use their office computers to keep tabs on games after hours and during their lunch hours and breaks," she said. "A lot depends on the culture of the company. An overly strict policy may not be called for if employees often work off the clock on projects without pay."

Letting employees use office computers for this personal use also can help morale. Swanson says employers should keep in mind that benefits from gains in company productivity during the past few years have not gone to workers overall.

"In many instances, these gains have come about from cutbacks that result in a leaner work force, meaning that the remaining employees are taking up the slack," she said. "As a matter of fairness and balance, owners and managers should keep this in mind and cultivate the goodwill of employees, especially since this can result in more gains to the bottom line."

Office computers aren't the only way to access scores. Many employees can easily do so on their smartphones.

"A policy about excessive use of smartphones may be called for, especially when a company is paying the monthly bill," Swanson said. "Again, it is a matter of balance. If employees are conducting work on their smartphones during their own time, it could be viewed as draconian to impose restrictions."

A balanced policy might include estimating the percentage of time the smartphone is used for business and adjust the monthly stipend accordingly, Swanson said. This shows transparency and accountability, which are important ethical considerations.

With both computer and smartphone use, it is important for owners and managers to model the desired behavior, Swanson said.

"This is a matter of integrity. If employees know that their boss is using his or her computer to keep tabs on games during work hours, then that smacks of hypocrisy and is bound to sow resentment instead of loyalty to the firm," she said. "Managers and owners should not craft a policy for employees that they themselves are not willing to abide by. This can be the litmus test for whether to have a policy or not."