Holiday Shopping Online During Work? Employers Are Taking Notice

More than 20 percent of employers say they’ve fired someone for using the Web for personal activities.

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It's tempting to spend slow work days this holiday season shopping for gifts online, but employees should think twice.

In a recent survey, CareerBuilder polled more than 4,000 workers and almost 3,000 employers on Internet usage. The job-search site found that a good number of workers use the Web for a range of activities, including holiday shopping and social media, and employers are increasingly tightening control of their employees' Internet activity.

The biggest takeaway for workers: Spending too much time online at work can cost you. In the survey, 22 percent of employers said they have fired someone for using the Internet for non-work related activities. Half of employers surveyed said they keep tabs on their employees' Internet and email usage, up 3 percentage points from last year.

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With the holidays coming up, half of workers surveyed said they plan to spend time shopping for gifts while at work, down 2 percentage points from last year. Of those who plan to shop at work, 34 percent say they expect to spend a hour or more shopping (up from 27 percent last year), and 16 percent say they'll spend at least two hours browsing online (up from 13 percent a year ago). These workers should be cautious, though: Seven percent of human resources managers surveyed said they have fired an employee for holiday shopping.

More broadly, 56 percent of workers surveyed said they check their social media accounts during the workday, up from 49 percent in 2010. And within that group, 1 in 7 workers say they spend at least an hour a day on their social media accounts. Employers have taken notice. A quarter of those surveyed report adopting stricter policies during the last year in regard to what employees can say about their companies on social media outlets.

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In addition, 61 percent of workers surveyed said they send non-work related e-mails during the day, and 19 percent said they typically send more than five personal e-mails each day. A smaller percentage (8 percent) of employers say they've fired employees for sending personal e-mails while on the clock.

"Most companies assume their employees use some of their break time on the Internet for shopping, checking social networks, and other general browsing, but when it starts adding up, workers need to be aware of company policies and any potential consequences," says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, in a press release. "With more companies limiting or restricting online activity, e-shopping season is as good a time as any to be mindful of our Internet usage at work."

Twitter: @benbaden