Earlier today, I read an article about the top job search mistake: looking for a new job from your current one. While it's a little over the top to contact recruiters and submit resumes using your current workplace email address or phone number, I disagree to some extent with the alarmist assertion that "once the boss knows you are thinking about leaving, they might just show you the door first." While this may be true, it shouldn't be a good manager's first reaction to learning about an employee's job search. And if a pink slip is your boss's first reaction to any problem, you were probably pretty smart to look for a new gig.
If an employee is seeking to leave a secure position, it shows that something's wrong. The first instinct of any proactive boss or company leader should not be to scold, but to find out what the problem is. This is particularly important because the problem likely extends beyond a single job seeker: if one person is sufficiently negatively affected by an aspect of the company to consider leaving, you can bet that plenty of other people are actively looking for a way out as well (though perhaps not while at work). Someone with a rewarding, well-paying job that offers upward mobility is probably not seeking to leave. But if a job causes employees more frustration than delight--so much so that they resort to on-the-job job seeking--something needs to be done, and fast.
Whether the reason for wanting to leave a company is insufficient opportunity for advancement, poor leadership, unclear communication of goals, lack of resources, nasty coworkers, or anything else, the problem deserves to be acknowledged and explored. Casual, one-time on-the-clock jobseeking is a symptom of a company problem that needs to be fixed, not a fireable offense (at least the first time it happens). An honest discussion with a supervisor and the creation of a plan of attack may be all it takes to alleviate an employee's frustration and redirect work time toward job-related activities.
If the on-the-clock job searches continue after a discussion about issues in the workplace and a good faith attempt to alleviate them, that's a problem, and perhaps an indication that the employee is better off elsewhere. But a quick Monster.com search or two is probably more a sign of a problem with the workplace than with the employee. A good boss will look to understand this frustration and bring it to an end. A bad one will exacerbate it, and the on-the-job job-seeking behavior will spread.
So be a proactive company: find out what your people don't like, and fix it. You'll end up with a much better and more motivated staff than the bare-bones group of fear-motivated people you'd be left with after an aggressive round of firing the frustrated.
Recruiters, what are your thoughts on this? Do you engage with people who apply for jobs from their company email addresses?