Is online shopping on the job okay?

By Robert Half 12 November 2018

Who doesn't love an online shopping deal?

There’s a good chance you or some of your co-workers occasionally browse online for a good sale or share digital discounts to take advantage of.

But don’t let online shopping be the start of a lasting habit. The tendency to browse online during work hours isn’t limited to one particular day.

As the line between work and leisure time becomes increasingly blurred, it's important for employees to both recognise the difference and know when it could have a negative impact on their career.

The problem is that falling into the habit of chasing online bargains at work can have serious fallout on your career - and while the actions and consequences may seem obvious to most professionals, they can also be just as easily overlooked.

The reality is that constantly flicking between online retailers and work-related matters makes it hard to concentrate on the task at hand. Not only can this see your productivity fall on the job, a lack of concentration makes it far easier for mistakes to occur, and the quality of your work will suffer.

Your employer’s trust is worth nurturing

Employers shouldn't turn a blind eye to the possibility that employees may be tempted to shop online during business hours, and some companies block online shopping sites altogether. Other employers recognise that in a busy workplace there can be times when staff need to go online for personal reasons such as paying bills.

However, trust plays a key role in healthy work relationships. If your employer allows some degree of personal online time, don’t abuse this.

If you are permitted some personal online time at work, show your employer how much you value the relationship, and trust your boss has in you, by sticking to some ground rules.

1. Understand your workplace internet policies

Just as you would spend time getting to know a new date before you become too involved, take the time to understand your company’s rules before shopping online at work.

Most employers have a clear policy about private use of the internet, and will often list sites or times of day to avoid. If there is anything you are unsure about, ask your boss for clarification.

2. Always put work first

Online shopping is extremely convenient especially during peak periods when you may be putting in long hours at work. Don’t let your passion for a bargain take priority over your career though.

Bad browsing habits in the workplace don’t just have the potential to lower your own productivity, it can also lower the morale of your team members, who may feel that you aren’t contributing your fair share.

Remember too, your employer could be monitoring your online habits in the office, and excessive browsing at work could mean facing disciplinary action.

3. Stay cyber safe

Spending time shopping at work can do more than impact your company’s bottom line. It can also bring increased security risks especially if you visit sites that aren’t secure.

If you can’t resist the heart-tug of an online sale – and your employer permits some online browsing, always remember to log out of your merchant accounts so that your personal details, and company files, are protected.

So is online shopping okay?

If you plan to do plenty of online shopping with Christmas coming up, consider taking time off or saving it for the weekend. Or aim to snag deals while you’re travelling to and from work or during a break. Or even do the shopping in-store during your lunch break. That way you can share the excitement – and the savings – without any possible fallout on your career.

At the end of the day, no discount is worth risking your career for.

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