Should You Allow Social Media Use During Work hours?

Social Media During WorkhoursThe average American spends nearly 3 hours every day on social media. Some, if not all of this social media consumption takes place during work hours in the office. This begs the question: should you allow social media use in the office? If not, what is its final impact on productivity, employee morale, and performance?

The answer, as we'll see below, is a bit more complicated.

The Productivity Costs of Social Media

Social media access comes with a stiff price tag - $650 billion, to be precise. That's the monetary value of lost employee productivity due to social media. Understandably, businesses want to limit access to social websites during workhours.

Having said that, this is a nuanced issue that deserves closer inspection. Employees will always socialize, either on Facebook or around the water cooler. The platform may have changed, but the effect on productivity remains the same. This, combined with employee demands and long-term worker morale means businesses need to formulate their social media strategy after careful perusal.

Employees Demand Social Media

Over the last five years, as social media has matured, it has displaced text messages, phone calls, and emails as the primary method through which people - including your employees - stay in touch with friends, colleagues and peers.

It should come as no surprise then to learn that employees actively demand social media access during workhours. As per a Cisco report, some employees are even willing to forego higher pay in favor of social media freedom.

Given this demand, banning social media in the office can be catastrophic for employee morale. Whatever productivity boosts a business may see in the short-term will be negated by the drain on employee morale in the long-term. It also severely impacts a business' ability to retain top talent. The best employees usually wants to work with an employer that respects their social freedom and trusts them to balance social media and work obligations. Little wonder that top employers like Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc. allow full social media access during work hours.

Legal Obligations and Public Relations

Although laws vary from country to country and region to region, there is some broad consensus that limiting social media access can be equated with restricting freedom of speech and an employee's ability to freely discuss things with co-workers. In the United States, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) even released a report on employer social media policies, indicating that banning social media access may infringe on an employee's constitutional right to freedom of expression.

Beyond legal obligations, banning social media and/or curtailing employee freedom on social networks bears a PR cost as well. As the now infamous "Cisco Fatty" fiasco of 2009 demonstrates, remonstrating employees for public critiques on social media and controlling how they use social platforms can be horrible for a business' public image.

Finding a Middle Ground

Based on the above, we can conclude that: a) Employees demand access to social interaction and will seek it through social media or the office watercooler, and b) Banning social media is not a sustainable long-term strategy as it affects employee morale and employer reputation.

The solution, hence, is to find a middle ground where you control employees access to social media without affecting your reputation as an employer or destroying employee morale. There are three ways to do this:

1. Trust employees and allow complete social media access
This is the strategy used by a number of top employers like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. The implication here is that the business trusts its employees to make meaningful choices when it comes to using social media. It works wonderfully well if you have a highly motivated workforce that understands its responsibilities perfectly, not so much if you don't already have top-tier talent like Google or Microsoft.

2. Selectively control which sites you allow access to
Not all social media websites are the same. Some, such as Quora, can be very effective knowledge platforms where employees can socialise as well as seek answers to their questions. With this tactic, you control employee social media access, banning only sites identified as a drain on productivity (such as Facebook, StumbleUpon, etc.).

3. Use internal social networks
A lot of firms have found success by using internal social networks. Membership to these networks is limited to employees. Managers can also use these networks to manage teams and encourage collaboration.

One such internal network tool is Yammer (now owned by Microsoft). This tool allows any business to set up an internal social network akin to Twitter within minutes. It not only meets employee social needs but also ensures that social time is actually utilized efficiently.

Conclusion

We can say with some certainty that banning social media outright is not a sustainable tactic in the long run. A business will see much better results by implementing any of the three tactics mentioned above.