As the holiday season approaches, many employees will likely turn to their favourite online retailers during work hours.


In just a few weeks, many employees won’t be able to resist temptation — they’ll visit their favourite online retailers and do some holiday shopping when they’re supposed to be working.

Small business owners need to decide how much Internet surfing they’ll permit on company PCs, and make clear to employees what the limits are. They might also want to consider installing software that can control or monitor Internet usage. At the same time, it’s best not to turn into a dictator when it comes to staffers dabbling online — an office shouldn’t have an oppressive atmosphere.

“It’s something that becomes sort of an HR-employee relations goodwill issue,” said Rick Gibbs, a senior human resources specialist with Administaff, a company that provides human resources outsourcing. “We suggest companies have policies concerning use of the Internet and to stress those in a positive way.”

In other words, remind employees company computers and the Internet are primarily for helping the business get its work done, but acknowledge that sometimes employees need to deal with personal matters online.

But what about the employee who just wants some goof-off time? The answer — and company’s policy — should depend on the online activities they’re engaging in.

Some companies permit employees to visit certain sites, but restrict access to others. Jones, Rose, Dykstra and Associates, a company whose services include computer security, has installed software that prevents staffers from visiting sites like MySpace and Facebook, which some people use to communicate with friends.

“Those tend to be real time-burners,” said senior partner Brian Dykstra, who said his company is more liberal about employee visits to sites like eBay and online retailers.

“I recognize that people need to do holiday shopping and things like that,” he said.