Enforcing Your Acceptable Use Policy Effectively

Blog / Enforcing Your Acceptable Use Policy Effectively

As we’ve written about previously, having an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for your employees isn’t really an option in the business world these days. With so much work being done either on computers, online, or both, it’s imperative that you clearly define what employee behavior on company machines is acceptable and what is not. The problem has been exacerbated with heightened levels of remote work and the explosion of staff personal devices being used for corporate tasks. AUPs improve security, reduce liability, and even improve productivity. Unfortunately, without appropriate enforcement, expectations surrounding employee behavior may be forgotten or even flat-out ignored.

Enforcement can be a thorny issue, however. Employers need to have their authority respected while not being viewed as authoritarian, which can drive away talent. Privacy issues and even office politics can further complicate policy effectiveness and erode workplace satisfaction. All these elements need to be considered when enforcing your AUP. Although there is no single standard for enforcement, there are some practices you can use to help ensure employees are on their best behavior when performing company duties that involve tech.

Keep it simple

One of the best things you can do to help ensure employees abide by your AUP is it to make it understandable. An overly complex policy that’s difficult to understand let alone abide by will do no one any good. Even if that complexity is the result of you trying to appeal to employees by codifying limited personal use, it can still make enforcement difficult and lead to (usually unintentional) violations.

Keeping your AUP simple doesn’t mean it can’t cover everything you need it to, though. Just make sure you’re reviewing it regularly as you draft it to make sure it’s as straightforward and understandable as possible. This way violators won’t be able to claim they didn’t know or understand the policy if you need to address problems later. Straightforward policies can still address complex topics if they’re simply explained. It might be tempting to have a lawyer draft the corporate AUP to ensure you stay within legal boundaries, but the double edge of that sword is the overuse of legalese. A better compromise is to have management draft the AUP in simple language and have the lawyer review it for correctness, not rewrite it.

Communication is key

This phrase has been thrown around so much it sometimes seems like it’s become meaningless, but it’s true. When it comes to your acceptable use policy, employee engagement is a must. Consider using regular internal reminders of policy content or keeping hard copies in employee common areas as well as your company intranet. Continually keeping your AUP fresh in employees’ minds is a great way to help ensure they abide by it. Communicating policy terms while onboarding employees is particularly important, as it not only immediately establishes expectations but also serves as a subtle indicator that policy abidance is a crucial part of their role.

Although it’s an unpleasant subject to address, it’s important that employees understand that your AUP isn’t in place just to be difficult. Make sure they understand that there are good reasons for creating and expecting them to abide by a policy. Taking the time to talk to your employees and get them to “buy in” will go a long way to keeping a compliant corporate culture without feelings of resentment or overreach. Another often-overlooked technique is to post short, friendly, and positive reminders of a few essential AUP elements around the office.  A simple example might include “Have you changed your password this week?” or “‘password’ is not a good password.”

Consistent, codified enforcement

No matter how straightforward, well-communicated, and regularly revisited your AUP is, you’ll eventually have to address violations. They’re just an unfortunate fact of life when running a business. That doesn’t mean AUPs are pointless, so don’t think we’re back tracking. But it’s important to acknowledge that like everything else in the world, even the best AUP can’t stop every bad behavior.

So, when infractions do occur, make sure your response is both measured and consistent. There are considerable differences in the degrees of danger that various violations result in. Typically, the occasional cyber-loafing on a news site is not nearly as damning as visiting NSFW sites or leaking passwords. Busting the first will almost certainly frustrate and annoy employees unnecessarily, while ignoring the latter will set a dangerous precedent and deeply undermine your policy.

Regardless of your organization’s views on violations, they should be codified in your acceptable use policy, along with their respective penalties. Once in place, they need to be enforced consistently. Letting some employees off the hook for minor violations and not others will quickly erode the others’ moral and destroy your credibility. It will almost certainly be seen as playing favorites and can even lead to legal problems if terminations for the same infractions are applied inconsistently.

Internet management and monitoring software

Finally, internet management and monitoring software is among the most effective ways of enforcing your acceptable use policy, and many employees have come to accept that usage monitoring is a reality of work life theses days. Monitoring software often comes with tools employers can use to track employee internet activity, including suspicious activity, or send custom messages to remind users of your standard should they attempt to browse inappropriate websites. You can also filter unsafe or inappropriate websites, games, and other digital distractions. However, these applications can require significant investments and configuration, particularly for larger organizations. Nevertheless, they remain one of the most effective tools for AUP enforcement. Management and monitoring can become complicated when you allow staff to use personal devices for company business, especially if they are accessing critical data from their home network. Most likely, this will require a formal sign-off by the employee before these tools can be installed, but unfortunately, it’s become part of keeping your data safe.

Regardless of how you draft your acceptable use policy, it’s important to be cognizant of how you enforce it. Inconsistent enforcement and overreach can be damaging to moral and lead to expensive legal entanglements but failing to enforce your policy at all reduces its effectiveness and can even lead to abuse. Enforcement needs to be handled both consistently and delicately to promote a safe and fair working environment.

If your business or organization needs help drafting or enforcing an Acceptable Use Policy, or help configuring employee monitoring and internet management software, contact TRINUS today and one of our experts will be happy to help out.




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