Is Personal Printing at the Office a Problem?

We all know it happens. Employees print personal documents at the office. Likely few managers have any idea how often this happens or if it’s a problem. Recent Keypoint Intelligence/InfoTrends research looked into this practice. When asked whether they print personal documents at the office, 78% of U.S. workers reported that they sometimes do.

And among those who print personal documents at the office, they indicated that (on average) about 11% of all printing at the office is for personal reasons. Based on Keypoint Intelligence/InfoTrends’ experience asking such questions, we suspect that the 78% figure is actually low. On the other hand, we also suspect that the 11% figure is higher than reality.

Figure: How often do you print personal documents in the office?

Source: Future of Office Printing (Keypoint Intelligence/InfoTrends, 2016)

Should managers address personal printing or leave it alone?

Research suggests that the main reasons why workers print personal documents at the office are they don’t have a printer at home, or they need something and forgot to print at home. It’s not that they are trying to abuse the system, or shift personal costs onto the company.

Unintended consequences of trying to eliminate personal printing at the office

Below are some potential consequences of forbidding personal printing in work environments. Employees may:

  • Arrive late to work, or leave early due to printing needs
  • Run out to the copy shop during work hours
  • Try to sneak in a print job, creating a sense of guilt and fear of suspicion
  • Develop anxiety about an illicit print, or not having a needed document

Probably none of the above consequences are good for an organization to enable. Most organizations likely view the modest use of company equipment for personal use as an unwritten job perk. It can be tolerated as the reverse would be more harmful. One can view providing coffee in the break room in a similar way. This service helps people work better, and keeps them from sneaking out to the local coffee shop every few hours.

If a solution is needed

If there are indications there is significant or growing abuse of personal printing in the office, there are some options open to IT managers. Job tracking and cost allocation to departments and individuals, for example, could dissuade the few abusers to stop.

Another option is creating reasonable policies to prohibit excessive use of company equipment. Most employees are likely reasonably honest. Those who are dishonest will likely show this characteristic in other situations, which could lead to their termination.

Conclusion

Keypoint Intelligence/InfoTrends suspects that in most cases, eliminating personal printing in the office will have more drawbacks than doing nothing. Nevertheless, some organizations may see a need to set limits, or require compensation if personal prints exceeds an allowable limit.