sealPurdue News

May 22, 2001

Information Age dilemma: can corporate security, privacy coexist?

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The question of whether corporations should monitor employees' Internet usage has been replaced by how they should monitor it, says a Purdue University human resources expert.

Bradley J. Alge

"Seventy-eight percent of 1,000 large companies in the American Management Association's 2001 survey monitored their employees' online behavior," says Bradley J. Alge, a Krannert School of Management assistant professor. "Forty-six and one-half percent of the companies included e-mail, usually by subject line, in their monitoring. Sixty-three percent tracked employees' visits to World Wide Web sites – such as pornographic ones – deemed unacceptable."

Despite the prevalence of corporate Internet usage policies, Alge says that most employees don't know what the policies are at their companies.

Alge thinks corporations are justified in online tracking to ensure appropriate use of company or organization resources. For example, if employees tie up Internet resources to download huge music files, customers may not be able to buy products or access product information online.

Employees visiting pornographic Web sites can create a hostile workplace environment that could result in lawsuits.

But Alge counsels that in setting online privacy policy, management not become a heavy-handed Information Age Gestapo.

"If I were starting a company, I'd allow my employees to have some personal Internet use," Alge says. "What good is management control if you're impeding ideas and innovation?"

Alge has just completed laboratory research in which he created a simulated organization where participants performed Web-based tasks. The participants also were given break time. Participants were not informed of the simulated organization's policies on personal use of online resources.

"What we found was that people expect to be monitored when they're on task, but they tend to view break time as more their own," Alge says. "In today's demanding and competitive workplace, providing reasonable policies for Internet use can be viewed as being employee-friendly and family-friendly and can therefore contribute to good morale."

The results of the study will be published in the October 2001 issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

So what are reasonable management policies for employee Internet use? Alge has the following suggestions:

• The policy should define what is unreasonable use, such as visiting pornographic Web sites.

• Employees should understand that good online policies protect both the company's proprietary information and contribute to a healthy working environment.

• Employees should have a say in defining policies – people are more likely to adhere to standards they've helped set.

• Define what is appropriate Internet usage for different jobs and different types of work. A clerical worker processing insurance claims, for example, has less need to use the Internet than a writer, editor, analyst or other knowledge worker.

• Communicate the policies in writing. The policies should be clear and non-threatening.

"Information is shifting power from the few to the many in organizations and companies," Alge says. "In many ways, what management expects is what it will get.

"If you create a controlled and coercive atmosphere of distrust, you create a cycle of mistrust. Employees will subvert and find ways around highly restrictive policies.

"If you empower in a healthy way, it can be good for the organization."

Alge plans to extend his research to the field, and in so doing, help companies establish Internet policies that protect the interests of all stakeholders.

Source: Bradley J. Alge, (765) 494-4483,

Writer: J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A publication-quality photograph is available at the News Service Web site and at the ftp site. Photo ID: Alge.jpeg.


The Effects of Computer Surveillance on Perceptions of Privacy and Procedural Justice

Bradley J. Alge

Electronic workplace surveillance is raising concerns over privacy and fairness. Integrating research on electronic performance monitoring, procedural justice, and organizational privacy, I propose a framework for understanding reactions to technologies used to monitor and control employees. To test the framework’s plausibility, temporary workers performed computer/web-based tasks under varying levels of computer surveillance. Results indicated that monitoring job-relevant activities (relevance) and affording those monitored input into the process (participation) reduced invasion of privacy and enhanced procedural justice. Moreover, invasion of privacy fully mediated the effect of relevance and partially mediated the effect of participation on procedural justice. The findings are encouraging for integrating theory and research on procedural justice and organizational privacy.

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