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You've Got Mail...And the Boss Knows

September 30, 2003

WALTHAM, MA -- A new survey of 192 companies by Bentley's Center for Business Ethics (CBE) found that 92% check up on their employees' use of email and the Internet at work. The study further revealed that 26% monitor employees' online activities all the time, not just when something gives cause for concern, and only half of the respondents considered monitoring an issue to be covered in employee training sessions. All companies in the survey are members of the Ethics Officer Association, the professional association exclusively for managers of ethics, compliance and business conduct programs.


The study is published in the Fall 2003 issue of the CBE journal, Business and Society Review. It is co-authored by CBE Executive Director W. Michael Hoffman; CBE Research Fellow Laura P. Hartman, associate vice president, Academic Affairs and professor of Business Ethics at DePaul University; and CBE Senior Research Associate Mark Rowe.


On September 30, Mark Rowe discussed the survey in a one-hour broadcast on "The Connection," which airs locally on WBUR-FM and on 64 other National Public Radio stations nationwide. The show, comments from listeners and a link to highlights of the survey, are available on the program's web site at:

Among other findings:


  • Almost all companies participating in the survey (92 percent) allow their employees reasonable personal usage of their electronic systems, yet fewer than half actually define what they consider reasonable.


  • As with personal use of the telephone, employers do not want work patterns, productivity or performance to be disrupted; and where that starts to happen is the point at which most employers draw the line on personal usage.


  • Another major consideration for employers, apart from misuse of company time, is the protection of corporate interests. By certain kinds of personal usage of email and the Internet, employees can put themselves into conflict with the legitimate interests of their employers. Interviews revealed that employers' greatest concerns in this area pertain to minimizing corporate risk exposure.


Less than half (44%) of the companies surveyed involved their ethics officer in the monitoring process, and:

o A quarter of the companies admitted that they do not have in place any procedures or safeguards to ensure that the monitoring process is not abused;

o Nearly half do not have written guidelines, policies or procedures by way of monitoring guidance;

o Two-thirds of respondents do not require the monitoring department or person to sign a confidentiality agreement..


The authors conclude, "Companies [should] strive for balance between legitimate objectives of monitoring and valid concerns of employees. A monitoring program developed according to the mission and values of the organization (i.e. with integrity), then implemented in a manner that remains accountable to the affected employees, approaches that balance," they wrote. "Where advances in technology allow us the ability to explore new activities of any type, it is critical that we also explore the ethical implications of, and accountability for 'pushing the envelope.'"

BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit

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