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The Holidays: Is the Boss Monitoring Your Online Shopping?

Working parents are especially busy during the weeks leading up to the holidays. In addition to our regular family obligations, we often need to clock in extra hours at the office so we can wrap up projects before Thanksgiving and Christmas. This time crunch presents many mothers and fathers with an ethical question: Is it okay to shop online for gifts from our cubicles?

It turns out that plenty of folks have no problem hitting online stores during office hours. According to a recent poll by CareerBuilder, 27% of employees plan to spend at least one hour surfing the web for presents. Another 13% intend to waste at least two hours shopping for holiday gifts.

If the majority of workers were truly only spending one or two hours shopping online while at the office, I doubt their bosses would take notice. But information technology professionals, who track this sort of thing, anticipate employees will waste at least three hours a week surfing the web for presents as we head into the holidays, according to a survey by Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals.

So how do companies deal with this issue? Nearly 50% of firms say they plan to block access to online shopping sites during the holiday season, according Robert Half Technology. Another 34% of companies plan to monitor for excessive usage.

What happens if you do get caught hunting down the latest Elmo doll? Twenty one percent of employers have actually fired a worker because of non-work related internet use and 5% have let someone go due to online Christmas shopping, according to CareerBuilder.

If you truly have no time to shop at home, here's some advice on how not to get in trouble with your manager:

Online Shopping Rules
First, find out what your company's restrictions are regarding online use. I know this seems like an odd question to ask, but if you can manage to do at a meeting -- and with some humor -- you may even get a thank you from your boss. I imagine some managers may want to warn their colleagues about a company's shopping policy but don't know how to do so without sounding like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Second, even if your employer doesn't restrict shopping altogether, try not to abuse the privilege. If you really must order something, make sure to go to the website and quickly click on the items you want. Try to avoid the temptation to browse for other presents.

When you shop also matters. Make sure to do it at the end of the day when you've already wrapped up your work. Some experts recommend surfing for gifts when you take your lunch, but I feel this can backfire since so few of us have an official midday break.

Finally, if you're like me and you tend to wait until the last minute to shop, posts a list of popular merchants and their shipping deadlines for Christmas delivery. Some websites allow you to purchase items as late as December 23rd. Sure, you may have to pay some additional fees, but the extra time may allow you to do more of your gift buying at home.

Do you plan to shop at work for your holiday presents this year?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Christmas Paper of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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