Thursday, August 30, 2012

Are you allowed to use social media at work?

This week, Lifehacker has been running a poll asking this question — are you allowed to use social networks at work? The results so far (from nearly 3,100 votes):

  • 58.63% = Yes
  • 25.8% = No
  • 5.89% = Only at specific times
  • 9.68% = Only on personal devices

What’s more interesting to me, though, is the comments posted by Lifehacker’s readers. I’ve chosen three to reprint, each of which illustrates an important point about employers’ attempts to regulate social media in the workplace.

1. My employer blocks everything but linkedin, yet they promote internally how they use and we are to use social media to promote and otherwise discuss (in a good manner of course) the company. It’s kind of ridiculous when you get an internal company wide email saying follow us, like us, etc and when you click on it, you get good ole’ websense saying “Denied.” (comment by SpiffyMcDougal)

Companies cannot promulgate a disconnect between their external social media efforts and their internal social media policies. Openness to the public at-large will cause resentment among your employees if you restrict internal access. It sends a mixed (and wrong) message.

2. I can use FB and other sites all I want on my phone because it's not connected to anything in the office. I'm sure it's not allowed but no one really cares. (comment by Dear Zeus)

Bans on the internal use of social media are mostly worthless. Employees are increasingly technologically savvy, and will figure out work-arounds. Why implement a policy that you cannot monitor or control?

3. As the IT Administrator, it was my call whether or not to block social media. I chose not to since I work with a bunch of responsible adults who put their work ahead of their social life. If they need to take a peek a few times a day, no one cares, and it's never become a problem. (comment by Sergio526)

This commenter absolutely hits the nail on the head. The issue of whether to ban or limit access to social media in the workplace is not a black or white issue. It’s an employee-by-employee issue. I am reasonably certain you don’t have a policy telling employees that they are forbidden from reading the newspaper all day long. Yet, if an employee’s productivity or performance is suffering because they can’t pry themselves away from the New York Times, you deal with the problem with that particular employee. The same holds true for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Amazon. It’s only an issue if an employee makes it an issue. Deal with it as a performance problem for that employee, not as a systemic problem that might not exist across your workforce at large.