There’s a needle-like frustration to be met with the message “this website is blocked.” If it happens once, well, move on, and hopefully it wasn’t something you really needed to look at.
But, if you encounter that message consistently in the process of doing your job, that frustration will mount, causing you to write an article on the topic.
I’m going to tackle this topic rationally, first with a discussion of what using a website-blocker indicates to an employee, then the practical effects, and lastly alternatives.
What you are (not-so-subtly) indicating to your employee
The main issue is that, by blocking websites, you’re telling the employee that you don’t trust them. You don’t trust their judgment in their need to look at a website, that they’ll manage their time effectively, or that they won’t do their work without you to direct them.
There’s a particular level of parent-child relationship with that last reason. It’s not too far off from saying that the employee isn’t an adult, at least not enough to avoid the temptations of fun websites.
I get it. From an employer’s perspective, you don’t want your employees to waste their time on Facebook or Reddit. However, that comes from a mistaken perspective of how younger generations use the internet. For instance, I found a wonderful community of insurance nerds on Reddit that helped me grow immensely as an insurance professional. They discuss topics I don’t normally encounter, and if I run into a situation I don’t know how to answer, I can make a post and expect a wide array of responses and perspectives. I attribute a lot of my growth to Reddit, between that insurance forum and a legal advice forum. What better way to get a sense of what risks might be out there than to read first-hand accounts of what people are going through?
The point is that all of the internet is information. Some of that may be less condensed or pertinent, but younger generations don’t draw lines on where to learn. We use unconventional sources and personal experiences of those around us. This is all extremely important as an insurance professional; as an agent, you’ll need to know how to handle situations that affect your insureds; as an underwriter you need to know what risks to look for that may not be apparent; as a claims adjuster you need to know what might tip you off to fraud. You can gain all of this by reading stories that you won’t find in textbooks.
By blocking websites, you’re telling an employee that your control over them is more important than potential information.
Additionally, there is an implicit bias in the type of websites blocked. This is purely anecdotal, but I am not a sports person by conventional standards. I do have a favorite team, players, and sportscasters, but it’s all Dota 2 (esports). However, if I try to look up information on my team or how a tournament went yesterday, it is all blocked.
However, if I load up ESPN, there’s no issue whatsoever. See the issue here? I’m automatically made to feel that what I like is not a sport, and plenty of people are going to go on ESPN to look up how their team did, but I cannot do the same. It’s a tiny thing, but I’m sure it’s repeated all over the place. By deciding what is OK to view and what is not, you’re using ideas based on what you think is “OK”, which is certainly not the same for everyone.
Let’s get this one out of the way: If you block me from looking at something that I really want to look at anyway, I will likely just use my phone. I’m being honest here, and no those things I’m looking at aren’t always related to work. However, I would implore you to read this article on why taking a moment to look at a cute cat video actually helps productivity. I often do end up using my phone for work as well, which I’ll get to in a moment.
When reviewing a risk, I don’t always know everything about an operation (shhh don’t tell anyone). I’ll turn to google to give me a video or explanation on how that thing works or why doing A vs B is a lot more dangerous. I have a hard time doing this with certain topics, like if they involve games or entertainment. Even a lot of news websites get blocked, which is frustrating when you see the headline “10 people get food poisoning from Al’s Diner,” and you’re trying to insure Al’s Diner. I can’t get the meat of that article, so I have to jump on my phone and try to find it on there. This wastes time, which employers should care about.
Basically, it makes underwriting a lot more difficult if I can’t use google, which is a main source of information, to its full effect. I’m stuck trying to figure out workarounds or just letting the information go, which means I can’t underwrite to my fullest.
My favorite alternative to blocking websites is to use an app like StayFocusd. You can add websites to its list, set a total amount of time you can use for all of them, and then it resets every day. I use this myself at home and at work, of my own volition, and it’s immensely helpful. It’s not wrong to think I don’t realize how long I spend on Facebook in the morning while drinking coffee, and StayFocusd helps me stay cognizant of that. So, instead of telling your employees “No”, tell them “just a little bit because we’re realistic about things here, and we want you to be productive.” One is a lot more long-winded, but it’s also a lot more understanding and trusting.
Similar to the aforementioned cat video benefits, there’s a lot to be gained from accepting the fact that employees might take a break every now and then to check on their lives. Ideally, and especially if they’re salaried, employees are going to check on their work during their “off” hours. To me, that seems like an even trade, if not more than even.
There’s also the stance that productivity should be measured in more than hours worked. Set ambitious but rewarding goals that keep employees motivated but also leave them open to managing their time. If they’re hitting budget and getting their tasks done, and then some, allow them some space. This supports the idea of a meritocracy – you do well, you get some perks!
These stances also leave you open to talking about productivity. When do they like to take breaks? How do they do their best work? Get them to be honest about when sites are distracting or helping them. You can even mention that keeping these sites off their bookmarks is helpful for productivity since they won’t be inclined to mindlessly click it.
The point is to treat employees like the adults they are; adults that know if they don’t get their job done it will be much more than their paycheck that suffers. Employees should be supported as persons and acknowledged as such, not as minions to be overseen.