How much time do your employees spend online doing personal things? They might be on social media, shopping, watching videos, reading entertainment news, and doing who knows what else… but all you want them to do is get their job done.

Contributing Forbes writer Liz Ryan was asked what “time theft” is and what should businesses do about it. Ryan responded by saying time theft was an archaic term that should no longer be a concern, especially when dealing with salaried employees. However, while it is probably true that you should not expect 40 hours of productivity a week, is it true that you should never worry about this so-called theft of time? An employee can spend a significant amount of time on personal items while appearing to be diligently working.

Where should you draw the line? On the other hand, if they are getting their work done, should you do anything at all? Before you take draconian means to eliminate ‘time theft,’ you might want to sit down, evaluate the situation, and come up with a rational plan for getting people back to work. While you are evaluating, you should consider many things. Here are seven things you should consider when you are trying to increase online efficiency in your workplace.

1. Blocking sites can decrease productivity.

If you are worried that you are losing a lot of productivity because of a lack of online efficiency, your first thought might be to block the sites where people may be spending too much time. For example, you might block access to many social media sites.

Herb Axilrod, of Entrepreneur, says that this may not be the best way to handle the situation. While social media is the source of a lot of wasted time, it is also an important business tool. Social media, when used for work purposes, is a good way to build brand awareness and market yourself. Blocking websites that people might use for personal reasons could decrease productivity. So think twice before you start blocking at random.

2. Effective monitoring can increase online efficiency.

But if you cannot block sites, what can you do? There are plenty of ways that you can monitor an employee’s performance to make sure that they are performing their job correctly. For example, set specific goals for employees and make sure they are meeting the goals.

3. The Internet doesn’t waste time; people do.

While access to the outside world through Internet access and phone use are an easy way to waste time, it is not the only one. An employee that wants to be distracted will be. Instead of building online efficiency, worry more about figuring out why employees are getting so easily distracted.

4. You should give employees a break.

While you do not want an employee to waste seven hours of an eight-hour workday on personal tasks, you should not expect them to work nonstop all day. Joe Robinson, also writing for Entrepreneur, points out that studies have proved that taking breaks of any length can increase productivity. So as long as they are not abusing the privilege, not only should you allow short personal breaks, you should encourage it.

5. You need to focus on the job.

Perhaps a good solution to your desire for online efficiency is to worry more about the job than the time. If an employee is accomplishing everything they are required to do and still spending a lot of time online, then maybe the problem is they do not have enough work. Discuss their workload with them and make time-related decisions off of that discussion.

6. Should you create policies and offer productivity training?

If you are still worried about creating a system of complete online efficiency, then one solution might be to create polices on the subject and then offer productivity training. Decide what your expectations are for time theft concerns and how you are going to handle future issues. Then, create a formal policy on the matter.

Make sure employees are trained in the policy. They should know what you expect of them, what they are not supposed to be doing online, why you have the policy, and how it will be enforced. Once you have created the policy and given the training, make sure you follow through with it.

7. Address the real problem.

The last thing to consider is why an employee has a problem with time wasting. Sometimes, it can just be a lazy employee. However, this is probably not the case, especially if the employee is one who in the past was a good worker.

Instead of jumping the gun and disciplining the employee, maybe you can find out what the problem is. Maybe they have checked out of their job. If that is the case, why?

  • Maybe they are not getting challenging enough assignments.
  • Perhaps they do not feel appreciated.
  • You might not be giving them work that plays to their strengths.

Instead of blindly punishing, try to find out what is causing the problem and create a solution.

Learning to Deal

Your business runs on productivity, so deal with abuses of leniency, but look for a middle ground. If an employee is getting their job done at the level, you would expect from them, then are they being unproductive when they spend a small amount of time on personal things online?