An almost inevitable consequence of more employees having access to the internet at work as been the potential for abuse of that access. Employees frequently use the internet at work for non-work related purposes (e.g. social networking, online shopping, personal emails).
Misuse varies considerably, however, and researchers from Taiwan and the US sought to understand what could predict how employees use the internet for personal reasons. Their paper presented in the Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace highlights the role of a personality variable called Locus of Control.
Put simply, people with an internal Locus of Control belief that they have a strong impact on what goes on around them and can exert a measure of control on their success. Those with an external Locus of Control tend to believe they have little relative impact on their environment and ascribe success and/or failure to “luck” or “powerful others”.
It has been studied extensively since the 1950’s and has been implicated in predicting satisfaction and even performance at work. Research has also demonstrated that Locus of Control plays a role in how employees approach the use of computers at all. Those with an internal Locus of Control believe they have control over the computer and can also self-manage their use of the computer.
Researchers in the US/Taiwan study found that employees with an externally-oriented Locus of Control were significantly more likely to use the internet at work for personal reasons – that is, shopping online while at work, searching for non-work related information and contacting friends online.
For some employees, the belief that external factors, such as luck, controlled one’s outcomes probably meant that they believed that receiving punishment for abusing the Internet was a random event beyond their control; therefore, abusing the Internet was worth the risk. This also perhaps reflected a lack of self-control or a failure to set work-related goals.
There are other factors at play in the research (e.g. education level and seeking entertainment while at work) and the entire paper is worth a read.