This is the type of headline I’ve been reading more and more of over the past few weeks, as if employers have only recently become aware that there is significant potential for employees to waste company time online.

It concerns me a little since I think there is quite a bit of news-making here. It seems that social networks have grown up and with Facebook making an impression on the Irish population there is a fear (real or otherwise) that this is going to change employee behaviour forever. I think this is wildly overstated. Facebook currently has around 45,000 or so Irish users (those on the Ireland network). Bebo has one million.

Furthermore, there are many other websites and Internet services that Irish people are using that are as likely to use up as much or more time than they might spend on a social network – (web-based email – hotmail, gmail etc; instant messanging services – msn, yahoo! messanger; bulletin boards sites, etc etc).

As a business manager this is a bigger question about how I manage the time my employee spend online. I do need to monitor it – it would be irresponsible of me if I did not know how much time and what my employees are doing online (while not impinging on an employees privacy rights of course).

The amount of time an employee spends online should very much be determined by the nature of their work. If my employees are knowledge workers, needing constant access to up-to-date information that helps them to do their job better, then I of course I am happy that they are using the internet to find this information in a speedy and cost efficient manner. If a particular employee is a production line worker then I would ask serious questions about whether significant time online is appropriate.

I think employees and managers need to sit down together to map out an acceptable usage policy relevant to them. It is in employers interest to ensure that their knowledge employees are active internet users. At the same time responsible employees are very aware that they are not paid to socialise online and are happy to keep it to a minimum.

There is a balance that should be found in each place of work that realises the benefits of being active online for both employer and employee.