Does social media hamper workplace productivity?

21 February 2012 -


Some see it as an indispensable tool in the modern business armoury. Others as a dangerous time waster that turns work time into free time. We canvas two contrasting views


Ronan Kavanagh, CEO SpamTitan Technologies

The use of social media in the workplace can hinder productivity. The time spent on personal internet use is quite simply time not spent working.

Using company provided equipment for personal internet usage on company time is not dissimilar to running up a massive phone bill for the company – the technologies are just different.

It costs the average SME with 52 employees the equivalent of $65,000 per year for non-work related social media activity. No one wants a Big Brother culture, yet the reason that people don’t make lots of long distance calls on business telephones is, apart from any moral reasons, because they know that there will be records leading back to them and they will face repercussions.

Ronan KavanaghWhen speaking with businesses that have employed the flexible measures that we provide, it has been noted that simply by introducing the means to assess the patterns of usage of social media, and by letting their staff know that their employers are able to do so, these companies have already seen a significant change in web habits and their approach to accessing social media at work. It should be on the basis of this analysis that managers can lay out a clear, comprehensive and flexible policy for usage in the workplace, rather than shoehorning in some vague guidelines into an existing policy that will likely be ignored by many anyway.

We need to re-instil the idea of ‘reasonable use’ in company policy in accordance with the technological changes that have happened over the last decade. Of course, we must trust our workforce, but the reality is for every conscientious employee who spends their time working and producing effective output for the company, there will be a minority that will, consciously or unconsciously, abuse their freedom online. I say unconsciously, because for an increasing number of people the way they use social media is so ingrained in their daily habits – they simply don’t see it as problem.

Another issue that businesses are starting to wake up to is that of security. Education plays a part in this but it is a reality that social media still contains many holes which cyber criminals will happily exploit. As a still relatively new technology that is changing and gathering pace all the time, there is plenty of user unfamiliarity to exploit. This can have potentially disastrous consequences if viruses, Trojans or other malware infects a company’s network, particularly for smaller businesses that will have less in terms of monetary provisions for addressing these issues. Keeping your company equipment secure is vital, and implementing some restrictions is a small price to pay to prevent such occurrences.

Would we want to completely outlaw social media in the workplace? Of course not. However, it is vital to give businesses the tools to analyse and control the problem as they see fit.


Adi Gaskell MCMI, social media expert and freelance business blogger

Social media in the workplace is about collaborations and increased productivity. That’s right, I said increased. Research conducted by AT&T a couple of years ago supports this, along with a recent study by the University of Melbourne on productivity improvements. No one is 100% productive for a continuous 40 hour weekly period. Productivity for us all comes in fits and starts. Allowing people to take brain breaks as and when they need to is actually beneficial.

Good employees will get the job done in the time that they need to. When we employ staff, we are effectively telling them we think they are up to the job in hand. We enter a contract of mutual trust – it is simply bad management to then turn around and say ‘we’re going to make restrictions on how you use your computer and keep tabs on you’. That person is there to do a job, and it is damaging to behave as if you assume they will not do so unless watched. Banning does not work. Oppression leads to rebellion, and people will simply find a way to defy a rule they believe patronises them and makes them feel less free as hard-working individuals.

Security is of course a valid concern for any organisation, but to ban social media based on a fear of viral or malicious software is really just throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Again, educating staff is key but also trusting that they will have some knowledge in this area as users of social media. Generally anything they wouldn’t trust or click on at home they would be very unlikely to do at work.

Rather than look at social media as a problem to be tackled, it should be embraced as part of the working culture. It is not the root of all evil. It is simply the tool through which deeper underlying issues are revealed. If people within your organisation are inadvertently sharing confidential or damaging information related to the company, you have a problem with education, not with social media. Equally, if people are sharing confidential or damaging information deliberately as a means to embarrass, then you have a problem of employee engagement that needs addressing. It’s a very public view – the press often cite social media as the cause of problems and unrest, rather than simply just another instrument people use.

What do you think?

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