Should Employees Be Allowed to Surf Social Media at Work?

Social media can be a great escape for those times when work becomes overwhelming or downright boring. Not surprisingly, many companies are reluctant to encourage what they see as time-wasting on the part of their workers. Is it ever OK, then, for employers to limit their employees' use of social media at work?

social media and employees

(Photo Credit: owenwbrown/Flickr)

Social media is like a black hole that sucks you in and spits you back out hours later, with no idea how your precious time just flew by in the blink of an eye. Your employer, naturally, would prefer that you didn't fall into this black hole at work. Do so too often, and you'll wind up with your internet access restricted. Worse comes to worst, you might even find yourself banned from social media at work.

It's generally assumed that professionals are mature adults who are fully capable of managing their time responsibly while on the clock. No one want to be guilty of micromanagement, which is often viewed as highly intrusive and annoying to employees. Therefore, most employees are given a clean slate to prove that they are deserving of having full access to the Internet, until they are caught abusing their rights to this freedom. According to a Forbes study, 64 percent of employees visit non-work related websites daily, and wasted the most time on these social sharing sites (in descending order):

Tumblr – 57 percent

Facebook – 52 percent

Twitter – 17 percent

Instagram – 11 percent

SnapChat – 4 percent

The question of how much control an employer should have over its employees’ use of social media was posted in the Harvard Business Review Group on LinkedIn, and you might be surprised by what the experts had to say. John Higgins, Vice President of Talent Management at Bridgepoint Education, indicates that social media is integrated into his company’s operations, but that employees also need to respect such freedoms and not abuse them. Higgins says it best in his response:

We integrate internal social media in our communications and learning & development efforts, therefore our influence is one of encouraging and supporting the use of social media for the purpose of collaboration and teamwork. We also use external social media, such as LinkedIn and Twitter to support our talent acquisition strategy, so again, we are supporters of social media to meet key business goals. We have an expectation that personal social media (e.g. Facebook, Pintrest, Instagram) is to be used during non-work hours. The employer has a responsibility to establish and communicate clear policies that govern the access to, and use of, social media while on company time.

Fiona MacDonald, who implements software solutions, feels that “it is good to give employees suggested posts or topics and encourage them to share on their networks” because employees are the best brand advocates, if trained properly. Many of the responses support the use of social media by employees, given that the employer establishes clear and distinct guidelines as to what’s appropriate usage and what is not.

There’s no doubt that social media is here to stay, as Debra Wright, IT Manager, points out in her response, so there’s no use in fighting the beast. That’s not to say that employees won't abuse their rights to scanning through social media here and there, but, in the long run, it will help them feel more involved in the company’s efforts, feel more connected and engaged with the brand they’re promoting, and maybe even boost morale due to the new trust bestowed upon them.

Therefore, the issue of how much to control employees’ use of social media is, actually, more to do with how employers can and should adapt to the changes that social media has presented the workplace, and then learn how to manage these shifts through proper education, guidance, and communication. The bad seeds who abuse a company’s social media leniency will, inevitably, weed themselves out, or their hard-working co-workers will ensure that they do. The companies that fail or refuse to recognize the shift in the tides for today’s workforce will also find it increasingly difficult to maintain talent or manage turnover.

Employees who aren’t mature or responsible enough to manage their social media use while on the clock need to realize that their lack of self-control will catch up with them and, eventually ruin their career. It’s not worth it to ruin your chances at an amazing career just because you can’t fight the urge to see what your friends are eating, thinking, or doing on your news feeds. Get your head out of the social media clouds and back into your work – because wasting time doesn’t pay the bills.

Tell Us What You Think

Would you be happier if your employer allowed you to self-manage your social media use at work? How would your habits change, if given full control? Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments section below.

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