'Tis the season to shop from the office

Most of us spend the majority of our day at work, so it's no surprise that a growing numbers of Americans do their holiday shopping during business hours. But although it’s tempting to browse e-commerce sites this holiday season in search of deals, is it appropriate for federal employees to use work computers to shop for gifts?

Comments on my Nov. 14 post, "Online shopping during work hours, yay or nay?" on FCW.com's "Management Watch" blog showed that many readers support the idea.

“Why not?” KRL in Denver asked. “I donate 20-plus hours of my personal time each week to my employer using my personal computer just trying to keep up with my workload (with no additional pay, of course). Why can't I spend a few minutes from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for personal business so I can pay my bills or buy my kid a birthday gift since I have no time for shopping while trying to get my work done?”

Reader Lilly pointed out that her department’s policy allows only limited personal use of work computers, but she said she would turn a blind eye to colleagues ignoring the rules.

“I'm sure I'll spot a few people on Amazon or Wal-Mart when I pass by desks during the next few weeks,” she said. “Do I really care? Honestly, no. I'm not anyone's supervisor, and as long as they finish their work for the day, I'm not going to really care. As far as I see it, what others do during their downtime really isn't my business.”

Those who objected to the idea were few but adamant. “I think the question is: ‘Is it OK to use taxpayer equipment and taxpayer money (salary) to do personal business?’ It seems to me that the answer is NO!" reader Tom commented.

Another reader who said he generally opposed the idea that employees do online shopping during work hours admitted that he had no issues with co-workers doing so during nonduty hours.

“Normal policy requires you to do the shopping on your own time (during lunch time, take an afternoon off, etc.),” Mark from Scott Air Force Base wrote. “However, when shopping online at work, many people expect to be able to do so using work computers during business hours on business time. This goes against policy and should not be done. However, I don't see an issue with people doing it during their own time during a lunch break or before/after business hours."

But given the current pay freeze and other budget cutbacks targeted at the federal workforce, holiday shopping could be the last concern of many cash-strapped feds.

As one reader put it: “Who has money to shop?”

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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