Workforce Surveys

Last week, Cisco launched their annual research project to track how technology is changing the workplace. Arguably, the most notable finding from the survey is data showing just how connected young people are to social media; so much so that they will often forgo a pay increase if it means keeping social media access or their choice of a smartphone device.

Study Highlights:

  • Many respondents cite a mobile device as “the most important technology” in their lives.
  • Seven of 10 employees have “friended” their managers and coworkers on Facebook.
  • Two of five students have not bought a physical book (except textbooks) in two years.
  • Most respondents have a Facebook account and check it at least once a day.
  • Half of respondents would rather lose their wallet or purse than their smartphone or mobile device.
  • More than two of five respondents would accept a lower-paying job that had more flexibility with regard to mobile device choice, social media access and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility.
  • At least one in four respondents said the absence of remote access would influence their job decisions, such as leaving a company sooner rather than later, slacking off or declining job offers outright.
  • Three out of 10 respondents said that once they begin working, it will be their right – more than a privilege – to be able to work remotely with a flexible schedule.

Despite these findings however, many of the people I’ve spoken with about the research express concern over whether social media should even be allowed at work. They regard social media access as being a productivity sink, with employees wasting time checking Facebook updates when they should be working.

So, should social media be allowed at work?

I am going to answer with a firm “Yes.” Here’s why.

1. It increases productivity.

An AT&T study in 2008 revealed that social networking access actually increases productivity at work. http://www.corp.att.com/emea/insights/pr/eng/social_111108.html. The report cited the tools abilities to increase individual knowledge and collaboration between teams as key benefits of using social media at work.

In a similar vein, a University of Melbourne study in 2009 found that allowing employees to use social media at work actually increased productivity by 9% over workplaces where access was forbidden. In a video presentation, author of the report Dr Brent Coker, suggests that this was because use of social media provids the brain with a natural break, therefore when work resumes it is done so with renewed vigor.

2. Banning social media does not work.

Just like government prohibition failed to stop alcohol consumption in America, banning social media access at work will not stop employees from accessing it. The lesson from the prohibition era 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 smartphones now, so it’s very easy for them to circumvent your firewalls should they choose.

3. You can’t just use it when it suits you.

An increasing number of companies are using social media to recruit people. They advertise on LinkedIn, for instance, or have a Facebook page geared toward potential recruits. These organizations are clearly looking to recruit people with high social media savvy, so why take that away as soon as they agree to enter your workforce?

4.  Show me the trust.

Also during the recruitment process, a company presumably hires because the candidates skills, abilities and attitude are suitably impressive and aligned to the organization. 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.

I’d love to hear your take on this topic. Does your organization ban social media at work?

Adi Gaskell is a writer on management issues for Professional Manager magazine.

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