Editorial: Increasing productivity

All of us at one point or another have used a work computer for personal business — to browse news, shopping, auction or weather Web sites, for example.

In fact, employees' use of work equipment was an issue even before PCs arrived on the scene. Workers used the telephone for personal calls or the copy machine to make copies of their children's book reports, for instance.

With the advent of the personal computer — a name that makes many managers cringe because it implies that the computer is one's personal property — opportunities for abuse have grown. Computers have revolutionized the way people work; they have become the primary tool we use to communicate, conduct research and store information. Information technology may have elevated our productivity, but it also has increased the chances for abuse.

As the Internet continues to become an essential part of our daily lives, the lines between work and personal uses sometimes get blurred. Shopping on eBay is clearly abuse, right? But what about that employee at the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service who comes up with a great idea for improving the agency's online buying systems after using eBay's online auction?

Certainly, government employees and managers should rely on common sense when considering using government-owned systems for personal use. Some activities are clearly out of bounds: Spending most of the day shopping online is obviously wrong, and clearly visiting porn sites is inappropriate. But supervisors should not resort to micromanaging their employees.

Generally, computer abuse is a symptom of a larger problem. Therefore, managers should view such abuse as a performance problem.

But computer abuse should not be met with Draconian crackdowns. Agencies already have a difficult enough time attracting job candidates.

To quote the late Ronald Reagan, the best course of action is to trust but verify. Yes, there is going to be abuse, but those exceptions should not set the standards for everybody else.

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