Much has been written about social networking and the appropriateness of it in the workplace. There is clearly an impact on productivity (siliconreplublic.com quote that in the UK people spend on average 40 minutes a day on social networking and this is costing millions per year to businesses) and it is a modern phenomenon that cannot be ignored. In Ireland there are almost 400,000 Facebook users (Mulley Communications, August 2009). Plus, given that most people subscribe to more than one social networking site, such as Twitter, LinkedIn and so on, we cannot ignore social networking as being part of modern working life – the focus should be not so much on that it happens but how we should manage it.
Given the popularity of social networking, maybe the approach should more specifically be; how much time spent on non work related electronic communications is acceptable (this can include google, ebay and so on).
Most companies have policies around the use of computers for personal use, but do companies really have the control they think they do? Is a complete ban on social networking the answer?
There are benefits and pitfalls to employees engaging in social networking from a business perspective;
Benefits: – a positive and happy employee is likely to post happy and positive messages – this can work as a good PR tool for potential clients and prospective employees – it can provide release from the day to day humdrum for employees and give them an opportunity to chat with friends, family and other colleagues – can be used as an information gathering tool – can to be to provide information to a wide range of people very quickly – for certain industries (eg. journalism) it is a useful tool for tracking stories and events worldwide which you otherwise wouldn’t have access to – companies may wish to use to determine what PR they are getting by tracking the number of posts containing the company name and what they are saying
Pitfalls: – a productivity killer and time waster – can be a distraction to the day to day job of the employee (The Irish Times reports that 69% of bosses believe social networking is a major distraction for employees!) – can potentially get personal resulting in a distracted and possibly upset employee – negative posts can affect client perspectives – there is potential for devastating mistakes to be made, such as posting something about a colleague or the business which is then picked up by someone who maybe shouldn’t have seen it – it is difficult to control and on the whole, provides no immediately discernable advantage to businesses There are a number of ways to manage social networking at work:
1. ban altogether – In these times of decreased motivation and people staying in jobs because they are scared to move, a heavy handed approach is not likely to work. However, companies DO have the right to ban all computer activity that is not work related.
2. accept it happens and manage it – for example, have a policy which allows a restricted amount of time social networking, for example, 30 minutes during lunch or outside of hours. There is no employment legislation which requires organisations to have a policy on electronic communications, but it is best practice to have a comprehensive policy in place to prevent abuse of the system. HOWEVER, a policy in isolation is not going to work. Merely handing an employee a policy handbook containing an electronic communications and business conduct policy, is not going to stop people social networking at work. Policy details need to be communicated clearly and effectively with an emphasis on the consequences of not adhering to the policy. It is recommended that as part of the induction process, details of the policy and consequences for not adhering to the policy are laid out clearly and comprehensively. Example policy wording: (a brief version) Personal Use of Company Electronic Communication Systems:
‘The Company’ would prefer employees not to use the company electronic communication systems for personal use. However, limited personal use will be permitted provided that it is in compliance with the following; – Outside of core business hours – Appropriate – Not potentially offensive – Not derogatory – Not defamatory – Not of a bullying or harassment nature – Does not contain the company name or make any reference to any company employees by name – Does not discuss confidential company business ‘The Company’ reserves the right, at any time, to access, audit, read, delete, retain, review all electronic communications, sent, received, stored, accessed or transferred on the company system. This includes monitoring information pertaining to Internet usage. Violations and Consequences Violations of this policy may be grounds for disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment, or immediate revocation of any or all electronic communications access and user privileges. In addition, certain violations could result in civil or criminal liabilities for the Company and/or the user. In conclusion, an employer cannot ignore social networking but rather needs to ensure that it is a not a drain on their business. The best approach is to accept it and manage it.
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