Is Social Media Reducing Workplace Productivity?

businessman checks his phone in the officeWritten by Dave Cullen

In a recent workplace report conducted by Law firm William Fry, it was revealed that Irish employees spend an average of 56 minutes of their working day using social media websites. Although many companies have restricted access to such sites as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest, employees can easily circumvent this by using their mobile phones.

The study revealed that 46% of Irish businesses do not employ a social media policy, which could possibly leave them vulnerable to public scrutiny, litigation, internal issues and abuse. Employees are actively representing the company publicly when engaged in social networks, therefore the employer could be held liable for any acts of harassment, discrimination, bullying or any other potentially damaging public communications.

56% of the employers surveyed revealed that they encourage staff to report negative comments about their company posted on social networks. However, 38% of employees said they would not report such comments about the company they worked for.

There is no doubting that social media has an appropriate use within the workplace. Creative industries and modern IT start-ups depend on it. As a recruitment company, our consultants employ LinkedIn to discover and connect with candidates, and Facebook and Twitter function as powerful job advertising and communications portals. Many businesses incorporate social media websites into their back office functions such as marketing, public relations and IT.

Outside of such roles however, personal social media is a distraction that will reduce productivity of staff when used for non-work related purposes. With an average of almost one hour of work time being lost in Irish workplaces each day, it’s clear that these websites are an expensive distraction. Many employers will encourage staff to act as ambassadors to the organisation and connect with the company Facebook page or Twitter account. The difficult managerial challenge for these employers is in trying to ensure employees remain focused and not distracted by aimless chatter with family, friends and unrelated topics.

An employee of a retail store who is engrossed in their smartphone rather than engaging with the customer who has just walked in is not maximising their productivity, company time or the customer’s experience of the business. The problem with the ubiquity of smartphones and the emergence of the age of perpetual interconnectedness is that in many instances, employees expect to be uninhibited when it comes to their online social lives. Introducing draconian restrictions on social media usage may initially result in employees feeling micromanaged, so it is important that employers provide a social media policy that is flexible and places clear expectations on staff.

Additionally, a one-size-fits-all ban would drastically reduce the potential for employers to leverage social networks as a means to build relationships with their clients and customers and discover new business opportunities. Also, social networks can be vital internal communications tools, allowing departments to keep updated on developments within other areas of the business with an immediacy and personality that email cannot match.

The debate around the effects of social media on workplace productivity for better or worse will no doubt continue to be a hot topic for some time to come. It represents an ever increasing part of our daily lives and has changed the dynamics of how businesses interact and engage with customers. As this trend continues further, employers will need to develop a better sense of the changing online social habits of their customers in order to determine which areas of the business benefit from social media access and which areas don’t.

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