Monday, July 14, 2014

Should you block social media at work?

One of my summer television addictions is NY Med, which follows surgeons around some of the New York metro area’s busiest hospitals. One this summer’s episodes focused on a man who had been hit by a subway train. An ER nurse Instagrammed a photo of the empty trauma room, along with the caption “#Man vs 6 train”. Later that day, the hospital fired her. According to ABC News, she was fired for being “insensitive,” not for posting any protected patient information or for violating any hospital policy.

I thought of this story as, over the weekend, I read an article on The Next Web entitled, Productivity vs. Distraction: Should you block social media at work? The answer to this question is a resounding “no.” Here’s why, in my opinion.

Like it or not, we live in a social world. People are living their lives on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Take Facebook. It has 1.28 billion users, 59% of whom visit the site every day. 68% of all time spent on Facebook is done via its mobile app. Twitter is even higher, at 86%. These stats show that it you are trying to ban employee social media access at work, you are fighting a battle you cannot win. If an employee wants to check Facebook at work, or post a Tweet, or show off that fancy filtered sunset on Instagram, they will simply take their iPhone out of their pocket and post away.

So what is a company to do? Embrace the fact that employees will access their social media accounts from work. So, how do you balance on-the-job productivity against the social media’s distractions? TNW offers four great tips:
  1. Draft a policy. I was troubled when I read that the nurse on NY Med had not violated any policy by posting on Instagram a photo of the inside of a trauma room. Given the vast number of your employees who are on social media, it is irresponsible not to have a social media policy. Just make sure it will pass muster with the draconian agenda being put forth by the NLRB.
  2. Invest in the idea that employees represent your company. Jason Seiden, the co-founder and CEO of Ajax Social Media, calls it profersonal: the inherent intertwining of our personal and professional personas online. You can read more on my thoughts on this important issue here. Suffice it to say, however, that employees need to realize that anything they say online can impact their professional persona, and that it is our job as employers to help educate our employees about living in a “profersonal” world.
  3. Training, training, training. Teaching employees about the meaning of “profersonalism” is just one part of the training puzzle. The best way to limit employee social media problems is to invest some time and money into training your employees about these issues. Having a policy is step one in this process, but training your employees on what that policy means is steps two through ten (at least).
  4. Allow for brain breaks. We ask an awful lot of our employees. It’s rare to find a nine-to-five job these days. If your employees are working 45, 50, or 50-plus hours per week, what’s the harm if they spend a few minutes during the day checking Facebook. Workplace social media is not a technology problem, it’s a performance problem. Thus, technological solutions will not work. You need to treat social media abuse as a performance problem. If an employee is spending so much time on Facebook that he or she cannot complete the job, then provide counseling or discipline. If an employee posts something that harms the business, counsel, discipline, or fire. Treating the problem by shutting off the technology will not cure the problem; it will just take if off your network. 
Facebook might not be Facebook in five years. But, rest assured, something else will take its place. Social media is not going anywhere. Employers need to embrace this reality, or face a workforce they do not understand and cannot hope to control.