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Social Media & the Workplace: Robert Half Technology's Findings

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In light of the plethora of social media and social networking sites, Robert Half Technology conducted a survey of 1,400 CIOs from companies around the US with at least 100 employees. (In contrast, it would be interesting to see what companies of a much smaller size would say.)

There are many reasons to advocate the use of social media for public relations, marketing, and overall business. This study, however, shows that companies are still hesitant and rather suspicious of their employee's abilities to use the media vehicles in an appropriate (or relative) manner.

While 1% were unaware (or opted not to answer) of their policies, 54% said that they completely prohibit use of these sites and 19% allow use for work related purposes. The number of companies who allow these sites to be used for business was surprisingly low, while the number who prohibit was also surprisingly high.

There are many benefits to companies who use these sites for their businesses, and for those who encourage their employees to get involved in their company's online presence. I have, in past articles, urged the use of these sites because of the advantages they offer.

From StopBlocking, some key ideas that help to reiterate my reasons (and offer some new reasons) for encouraging their use:

"Well-communicated and consistently enforced policies will deal with most issues. The number of companies blocking access to social media sites is roughly on par with the number of companies without social media policies. Isn’t it possible that employees who knew what the rules were might actually follow them? Especially if they knew there were real and serious consequences for failing to do so?

Access to social media improves productivity. According to Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, “Using social networking sites may divert employees’ attention away from more pressing priorities, so it’s understandable that some companies limit access.” But multiple studies prove exactly the opposite.

Productivity concerns are based on fatally flawed assumptions. First, there is research to suggest that every hour an employee spends at work on non-work-related websites is compensated for by an hour spent away from work on work-related activities. Do you check your work-related email on your mobile phone before you even get out of bed? Most knowledge workers say they do. Second, there are work-related benefits to social media activities, including collaboration, mindsharing and professional social networking amongst employees, affiliates and partners, according to David Lavenda of WorkLight (drawing on results from a Gartner study).

Employees don’t need your network. I can access any social network I like on my iPhone and my Palm Pre. I have a laptop with built-in access to the Sprint network that gets me on any site I want. Employees can (and do) bring these tools to the workplace. Your blocks have no impact. Employees can still get to Facebook all they want.

Who died and put CIOs in charge of worker productivity anyway? I’m not sure when supervisors and HR abdicated this responsibility to IT, but IT is simply not qualified to address employee productivity.

Blocking kills engagement. There are plenty of studies that tie high levels of worker engagement to increased growth and profitability. Trust is a pillar of engagement. So what happens to engagement when all employees get the same message, “We don’t trust any of you, not a single damn one of you, as far as we can throw you, so we’re blocking all of you”? Bye bye, engagement.

Access to social media is not an automatic invitation to viruses and malware. Those companies that do permit employee access have found ways to protect their networks. For many of the companies blocking access based on the fear of infection, it’s just easier to block than to find ways to protect the network while providing access. Laziness is not an excuse for blocking.

Millenials will not work for companies that block. These workers — the ones you need to hire to replace the retiring boomers — are networked 24/7 and expect the company to accommodate them. Many simply won’t work for companies that block access, which means you’re left to hire your second and third choices. Is mediocrity actually a hiring goal in your organization?

Bandwidth is a bogus issue. Bandwidth is the paper of the digital era. Can you imagine a company 25 years ago telling workers, “We’d love to get memos and publications to you, but we don’t have enough paper”? The very notion is absurd. They’d buy more paper. Companies pinching pennies on bandwidth are doing themselves a disservice in many more ways than one."

Robert Half Technology even offers some ways to protect your professional reputation, which would be a great thing to share with employees:

  • "Know what’s allowed. Make sure you understand and adhere to your company’s social networking policy.
  • Use caution. Be familiar with each site’s privacy settings to ensure personal details or photos you post can be viewed only by people you choose.
  • Keep it professional. Use social networking sites while at work to make connections with others in your field or follow industry news -- not to catch up with family or friends.
  • Stay positive. Avoid complaining about your manager and coworkers. Once you’ve hit submit or send, you can’t always take back your words -- and there’s a chance they could be read by the very people you’re criticizing.
  • Polish your image. Tweet or blog about a topic related to your profession. You’ll build a reputation as a subject matter expert, which could help you advance in your career.
  • Monitor yourself. Even if your employer has a liberal policy about social networking, limit the time you spend checking your Facebook page or reading other people’s tweets to avoid a productivity drain."

I think there is a happy medium to allowing use of social media sites. As a millenial, I want to be involved in these sites, whether for myself or for the company I work with.
Networking with others is enjoyable and helps to pass a long day online.

I hope that in the future companies can shift the responsibility of deciding Internet usage to people who are more knowledgeable and better equipped to make such a decision. IT may be told (from higher ups) that employees will waste time and blocking responsible sites is the only means to stopping it. What they are not able to see is the overall benefit of having employees involved in the company's online identity.


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