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Do You Look for Work at Work? Be Careful

From the abandoned factories to the controversial bailouts, the sliding economy has become impossible to ignore over the past few years. The biggest victim has undoubtedly been

the American worker. Raises have become sparse and job cuts have changed lives in an instant. Today, employees are always looking for a step up. A new career. A lifeboat to take them away from the sinking ship they call “work.”

Here’s the problem – some have brought their job-seeking adventures to their cubicles. Lots of Americans are unhappy with their jobs – that’s a fact. But whether job searching on the clock is worth the risk is up for debate.

No matter how disgruntled an employee may be, looking for other jobs at the workplace can often be dangerous. In some cases, it can even be cause for termination.

Employees should consider the repercussions that being fired for job shopping could possibly incur. First, they might not be due unemployment because of a contract violation. After all, some employers may consider a personal job search to be stealing company time as it is not fulfilling the responsibilities that the worker signed on for and is getting paid for.

“Whether you’re spending time job searching, shopping or updating your Facebook profile, you’re using company time and property on personal stuff — that’s unethical,” says Elizabeth Freedman, author of “Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace Without Hanging Yourself.”

Long-term consequences also could arise. Those same companies that the worker risked his or her professional reputation on courting on the clock could see that as risky behavior.

“If you’re spending so much time at your current job doing non-work stuff, what’s to suggest that you wouldn’t do the same thing to any future employer?” Ms. Freedman says.

According to CareerBuilder.com, even if an employee isn’t fired for an on-the-clock job search, it may give management a reason to include them in planned layoffs for which they might not have been considered before.

Another sticky situation may arise with co-workers. Ms. Freedman says looking for other jobs at work sets a bad example. A fellow employee might question that person’s commitment to his or her current company and in turn may become less committed to the unhappy worker.

For this reason, several workers have sneakily sought out jobs on the clock. They quick-click away when co-workers walk by or wait until everyone else has gone to lunch. But more often than not, these efforts are futile.

A 2007 study from the e-mail security and data loss prevention company Proofpoint, Inc. found that 32 percent of large companies read employee e-mails. Almost 28 percent have fired employees for e-mail policy violations, while another 45 percent have disciplined employees for the same reason. And 20 percent of surveyed employers disciplined employees for improper use of blogs or message boards, 14 percent for social network violations and 11 percent for improper use of media sharing sites.

The bottom line: What an employee does online at work, even if it’s just an innocent peek at CareerBuilder.com or Monster.com, is the employer’s business and it’s not necessarily private.

However, CareerBuilder.com writer Rachel Zupek says that a boss catching a job-hunting employee red-handed may lead to a serious discussion about the employee’s career goals.

“If you’re unhappy with your pay, don’t like the work you’re doing, feel underappreciated or whatever the circumstances, it’s the perfect opportunity to talk openly with your boss,” Ms. Zupek says.

She also argues that if a worker is honest about the situation, the trust between the employee and the manager may become stronger. The boss may even scramble to keep the worker happy.

On-the-clock job searches that are safe for work are ones within the company.

“People are doing this more and more because it’s safe — you still have a job, and employers LOVE to promote from within,” says Robin Ryan, job search expert and author of “60 Seconds & You’re Hired.” “Even moving a good employee to a new area still retains the good employee.”

Ms. Ryan says another option for unhappy workers is making a boss a mentor. This gives employees an opportunity to ask their bosses about a desire to move up internally and get their input on several work-related issues.

And if that doesn’t work for them, Ms. Freedman recommends leaving the job search at home.

“When your job is miserable or your company is on the brink of collapse, a decision to conduct a job search on the job may seem like the right one — but don’t let tough times cloud your judgment. Eventually, this recession will pass, and you want your reputation and ethics still intact.”

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