Original post: 31 May 2008
First, let me congratulate Mark Stencel, who will be filling at least a portion of Peter Harkness’ shoes as Peter retires from his position as Editor and Publisher of Governing Magazine. Mark, long-time technology columnist for Governing and governing.com, is a terrific guy with great insight into the often uneasy marriage between government and technology.
In Mark’s recent column, “At Work on the Web” he argues for the reduction or removal of Internet filtering in government agencies. While his reasons are noble, with roots in trust of workers and the fundamental democracy of the web, the realities of working in government agencies give me a different view.
Let me first say that almost all the employees I know at the City of Seattle are ethical, diligent, and hard-working. I see that diligence, that dedication, every day.
But everyone (government employee or not) has their weakness. Some folks are addicted to alcohol, others to shopping, many to cigarettes/smoke breaks and many others to surfing the Internet or YouTube. They can’t help themselves from surfing or bidding on e-bay or browsing MySpace for their friends.
Pin-up girls. The very phrase evokes images from World War II barracks. In City of Seattle call centers in the 1970s, we had problems with pin-up girls decorating cubicles. Then it was pin-up guys. Naked pin-up guys. In guy’s cubicles. We ended up banning all such photos from the workplace and no one would think of allowing them back in today.
Yet I’ve had workers visiting dating sites, and leaving images of half-clothed people on the computer screen scandalizing a co-worker. I’ve seen workers leaving their City e-mail address for craigslist and e-bay sales. I know of employees surfing Internet sex sites. We “flatten” at least five computers (out of 10,000) a week. (This is a process also known as “re-imaging” or wiping a desktop computer clean and re-installing all programs.) Why? Because they became infected with malware from visiting non-business websites.
In every single case cited above, the City employee was a good employee. Hard working and well-intentioned. Someone I’d be proud to call a friend. But they either didn’t know the rules or had to indulge a low-level addiction to the Internet.
One department director tells me how much he loves the “websense” (Internet filtering software) installation in his department because it reduces the number of loudermill hearings he conducts, disciplining workers for non-business use of City computers. Websense helps keep honest people honest.
And hard-working City employees chafe when they see co-workers wasting time “surfing”. My experience is that morale among the top-performing City workers improves when they see low-performing employees unable to indulge their Internet addictions and/or disciplined for it.
Most City government workers earn a living wage. They work 40 hours a week, and many get overtime for hours beyond that. They have both the ability to buy a personal computer for home and the time to indulge themselves in the cyberworld at home. Public employees are held to a higher standard than workers in any other industry. When there’s a disaster, private employers shut down and their employees go home. Public employees work 12 hour shifts for the duration of the emergency.
Those same higher standards apply to use of City equipment, and conduct at work day-to-day, and the Internet content filters remind all of us of our duty to meet that standard.
The Pin-up Girls are long gone from the workplace. Let’s not bring them back with the web and Internet.
Original post: 31 May 2008