Should social media be banned at work?

Last week Cisco released their annual Connected World Technology report. I'll include their infographic at the end of this post, but the basic jist was that young employees want access to social media at work.  They want it a lot, even in many cases instead of a pay rise.

"The growing use of the Internet and mobile devices in the workplace is creating a significant impact on job decisions, hiring and work-life balance," the report concluded. "The ability to use social media, mobile devices, and the Internet more freely in the workplace is strong enough to influence job choice, sometimes more than salary."

I first wrote about the report via my Technorati account, and in sharing it in a few places some of the feedback rather shocked me.  A large number of people in the CMI's various social media communities were adament that social media access should be banned at work.

There was a nice repost to this kind of attitude by Dave Meerman Scott, suggesting that banning social media access is the first route on a path to a crappy workforce.  As you can probably imagine I'm firmly in favour of social media at work, but I'd like to spend a minute expanding on why that is.

So, should social media be banned at work?

I am going to answer with a firm no.  Here’s why.  

1. It increases productivity, not decreases it. An AT&T study in 2008 revealed that social networking access actually increases productivity at work.  The report cited the tools ability to increase individual knowledge and collaboration between teams as key benefits of using social media at work.  I've lost count of the number of times I've learnt something new via social media, it really is a no brainer.

A similar study was done by the University of Melbourne management school with similar results.  Social media use allows employees to take a break, recharge their batteries and jump back into work with renewed vigour.  Here is Dr Brent Coker discussing his findings.

2. Banning it does not work. Just like the prohobition failed to stop alcohol consumption in America, banning social media access at work will not stop your employees from accessing it.  The lesson from the prohibition was that people had already cemented their liking for alcohol, so trying to remove access to it simply would not work.  It’s fair to say that social media use is well cemented in modern life, and the Cisco study shows just how important it is to employees today.  More and more people have smart phones now so it’s very easy for them to circumvent your firewalls should they choose.

3. You use it when it suits you. An increasing number of companies are using social media to recruit people.  They’ll advertise on LinkedIn for instance, or have a Facebook page for potential recruits.  So they’re clearly looking to recruit people with high social media savvy, yet as soon as they enter the workforce it is taken away.

4.  Show me the trust. Likewise, during the recruitment process a company presumably hires someone because they’re suitably impressed by the candidates skills, abilities and attitude.  To then suggest to that same employee that they cannot be trusted to manage their own social media usage so as not to affect their work performance seems a strange about turn.

Now suffice to say there will be some professions where this does not apply but even then it is debatable.  My girlfriend is a nurse for instance and it would seem odd for her to be using social media whilst on the ward, although if she were stuck on what to do being able to tap into a national/international 'marketplace' of other nurses for advice would be useful I'd have thought.  Likewise one corresondent suggested that shop floor staff have no use for social media.  On the shop floor perhaps, although an increasing number of shops now offer web access for customers to order online if items are not in stock in the store, so social media is hitting the shop floor an increasing amount.

I’d love to hear your take on this, do you ban social media at work?  Leave your comments below (oh, and here's the infographic for you)

social media at work


33 thoughts on “Should social media be banned at work?

    • You’d think so Kenneth, but a number of the naysayers I’ve spoken to were ironically posting their views on Facebook and LinkedIn 🙂 Welcome to the blog by the way.

  1. Seems strange to be even having the debate. Managers should focus on getting the right outputs and apply flexibility to the input side of things.

    • Hi Wayne – Your answer makes common sense and I agree that managers "should" overwhelmingly focus on outcomes. However, some people in management positions have probably tried to control the political "how," as well as the technical "what" when they have involved themselves in achieving organizational output. I can't help but believe that the "what's in it" for them has led some of those managers to value their abilities to control others' behaviors just as highly or more highly than reaching their organizations' stated objectives.

      • Hi Bud. I think it's probably a throw back to the Taylor'ist management styles we've had for the past century. That line of thinking treats companies like their machines that if you can control the input the output takes care of itself. It sees many still use salary as a motivating force, even though research places it way down our list of motivating factors for instance.

        So in that kind of world managers want to control what their employees do, and in such a world they probably regard social media as something that isn't contributing to the end goal.

  2. I think if people want to loaf off then they'll find a way to do that, whether you allow social media access or not. I mean a) there are lots of other ways for people not to do their work, and b) they can easily use their smart phone to access Facebook etc. anyway.

    Focus instead on getting people sufficiently engaged at work and that solves the problem in one swoop.

  3. At least CIPD seem to have the right idea.

    Social media is here to stay, Neil Morrison, group HR director at publishing company Random House Group, told delegates at the CIPD Conference in Manchester. He added: "My personal view is that you can control social media no more than you can control what people think and say. There is no plan B – technology is going to progress, but social media is here to stay: the only choice is how to manage it."

  4. When companies ban social networking, the best employees leave. They sense they are not trusted. Those who reluctantly stay go into the restroom or outside the office with their iPhone or Android to get onto Facebook and Twitter.

  5. Whilst I understand the concerns, the methods of communication which social networking supports (instant messaging, video messaging, etc) are technologies no workplace can afford to ignore. It is not a case of banning facebook (and the rest) and it will go away; the situation deserves more consideration.

  6. Social media at workplace is very important for mental stimulation especially in a boring office environment and culture…just like having a cup of tea or coffee…or having a birthday cake party in office…or just like another normal office gossips…

  7. Social media waste of time. We have had it banned for years on the desktop everyone(all generations) agrees its a waste of time, just a distraction. Why would you hire someone off facebook without normal face to face interviews they could be anyone. Social media is a hype not valuable for business. Most people use it as a self marketing tool, you would be crazy to believe what is said to the friends/public. eg i love everyone, the world is sooo great today, i have the best friends ever…. ya da ya da blah blah blah, oh look my toe nails have grown blah blah soo relevant

    • People have always required some access to their social networks during work hours be it via phone or email.

      I see that environments where rules are looser around internet usage and time keeping are always much more productive and have a much higher level of engagement by the employees.

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  9. Social media is a fantastic way of engaging employees in a company, demonstrating trust, sharing knowledge and attracting new recruits. Embrace the new technologies and if employees are not performing because they are spending too much time on Facebook or self marketing on Linkedin then that is a management issue – its the same as someone who spends too much time gossiping by the vending machine or taking sickies to go to interviews…

  10. Great blog Adi. I suspect that companies ban social media because senior management don't understand it. In my experience some are actually quite terrified of it so a complete ban is their only way of dealing with it. Rather than banning social media bosses need to be working with their employees to develop guildiens for use. And I agree with Lynda that social media can be a great way of engaging employees.

    • Hi Carol, welcome to the blog. I quite agree with you. There are generally five phases of social media adoption.

      • Folly – when people think social media is a waste of time
      • Fearful – when people are scared of giving people a voice
      • Flippant – neither fear nor fervour. Build and pray approach.
      • Formulating – when value is seen and strategies attempted
      • Forging – where people integrate social media into their daily lives and it breaks out of a community manager/marketing dept responsibility
      • Fusing – the most advanced attitude, when social media philosophies are at the heart of everything we do.

      Not hard to see where many fit in the list.

  11. Hi Adi,
    Just seen this on twitter this morning and love the discussion! Having worked with the Brain Friendly Learning Group (#BFLG) last week on the topic of using Social Media to enhance Learning, this is really current for me. You posted, last week I believe, about there being a 20% fall in companies banning social media at work, so hopefully (albeit slowly) things are beginning to change?

    One of the discussions we had last week was if companies embrace Social Media, and Learning Professionals begin to use it as a learning process/tool… how many companies are ready and prepared to support their workforce for using it correctly?

    I'd love to see organisations facilitate mini-workshops and learning bites on how social media can enhance your performance, how to use it ethically at work and in line with the company values… I know small businesses who have adopted this approach, but maybe this would help wider organisations feel more comfortable about making the change?

    • That\’s exactly right Carly. This isn\’t a case of allowing staff to access Facebook and then hoping some good comes of it. You need to take an adult approach to how social media can actually help your business. It could be by enhancing the learning process for staff. It could be improving the customer service offered to customers. It could be as an engagement channel. The worst thing you can do is use social media without a purpose.

      As Lewis Carrol famously said “If you don\’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

  12. Hi Adi. Great blog. I work in a large financial services organisation. We're looking to pilot full access to social media at work. I have a few cynics to convince but I'm sure we'll get there. Can anyone share any success stories from regulated corporates who have seen positive results after allowing social media access to their employees? Thanks!

    • Hi Hannah, thanks and welcome to the blog. I think the key is to look not at how people spend their day but on what results they get. Employees are paid to do a job, they're not paid to sit in the office for 8 hours a day (or shouldn't be).

      So my suggestion would be to focus on the outputs you expect from your team. Social media can help if it's for research/learning (as you're doing now), or even for giving the brain a breather. If it's used excessively for things that don't help your work though then it'll show in your output.

      And of course, try and develop the right culture here. Share stories of people using it in the right way and people will quickly get what's expected of them and what isn't.

      I'll leave it open for others to share their views too, but do please keep us updated with how you get on 🙂

  13. Furthermore, social media depend on mobile and web-based technologies to create highly interactive platforms through which individuals and communities share, co-create, discuss, and modify user generated content. Thank you.

  14. This is an interesting topic that demands some serious attention. Social media at work is obviously beneficial when it applies directly to your job. In this day and age, many jobs go hand-in-hand with social media. However, if your employees are wasting a lot of time chatting on Facebook and posting on Twitter, you might get pretty annoyed, if you are the boss. Imagine paying people for an eight-hour work day, and they only work for three hours. If you are the one doing the paying, you won't like it. Having said that, social media is fine to some degree. As long as employees are not more focused on their Facebook than they are on their actual workload. I have worked with people who stand around texting and posting messages, and they do not help much with the work we are supposed to be doing as a team.

    • I suppose that's it, isn't it? Most bosses don't pay you for a set number of hours, but for a certain amount of output. If you're delivering the work expected of you in the time expected and to the quality expected, it shouldn't really matter how, when or even where you do that.

  15. Maybe the workplaces should have a pomodoro work schedule, where workers can only use social media 15 mins in an hour. And focus solely on their work in the rest of their time?

    Anyway, good food for thought.

    Have a nice day 🙂

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