Social Enterprise

Personal social media? Not on company time

Using social media for personal reasons at work is widely frowned upon by those taking a recent TechRepublic survey and by those commenting on it.

In April 2013, TechRepublic asked the question: "Does your company block social media sites?" To date, there have been 443 votes of Yes, and 269 votes of No. Interestingly, the comments supporting banning social media sites in the workplace were disproportionately high compared to those who supported employees having access to them.

Although most commenters didn't clearly state their comments were strictly about personal social media use in the workplace, taking the comments in context supports that being the case. Comments tended to fall into two categories: those who thought social media use by employees had little or no value in the workplace, and those who thought the focus should be on worker productivity and not how they spend their time. The comment that received the most votes was the one from member Pete6677 who suggested the focus should be on productivity and that the better tactic is to hire people who aren't lazy and fire the ones who are, rather than monitoring social media use. Still, the number of overall comments expressing support for banning access to social media sites was far greater.

Besides there being more of them, they often had an early, industrial revolution flavor that could have come right out of a Charles Dickens book. "Give an inch, they will take a mile" (wizard57m-cnet), "Time wasted is time wasted" (jnkmail), and "playing at work is theft" (jnkmail). On top of the consistent theme of maximizing productivity, commenters who favored banning social media sites also were concerned about the types of things employees might post on social platforms that could harm the company's reputation or open it up to litigation relating to requirements such as compliance.

In two cases a generational conflict arose as member canewshound suggested 20-somethings were "punks", and member jnkmail lashed out at people under 30 for being unable to control their impulses and for wasting hours a day on social media, much like drug addicts. That comment led CharlieSpencer_Palmetto to lament that people over 30 can't control their impulses either. While member frylock wondered how companies would feel about employees curtailing any company-related work in their off-hours by banning company sites from their personal networks and devices, member jnkmail suggested the problems were largely due to cloud computing, an evil entity that is making it a requirement for companies to provide Internet access in the first place.

But this albeit, unscientific survey, is not the first TechRepublic foray into exploring how people think about personal social media use on the job. Toby Wolpe's blog post in March 2013 explored this topic against the backdrop of a European study claiming knowledge-worker productivity is boosted when engaged with social media. Professor Joe Nandhakumar at the Warwick Business School did the research and concluded that people being connected in social media was a foregone conclusion, so the best approach would be managing it, rather than trying to ban it.

Comments on that post covered a lot of ground, sometimes devolving to questioning the value of one type of work compared to another, and even the value of various occupations. Still, the overriding sentiment leaned heavily toward the idea that social media in the workplace was a time waster. Commenters also questioned the validity of the study and the qualifications of the researcher. Once again, generational conflicts came to the surface, with some straying into debates about younger workers' values compared to older workers' values.

Commenter LalaReads complained about how employers often exercised a double standard where they encroached on employee's personal lives through implied expectations for them to check email or be available during non-working hours, while simultaneously making a big deal out of employees checking into social sites periodically throughout the workday. Some commenters called for moderation by pointing to social media having its place and that employees should be given credit for their maturity.

Those who comment come in two forms: the ones who use their true identities and the ones who remain anonymous. As suggested by one commenter, there is perhaps one question when posed to all commenters that might reveal more insightful revelations on this topic: Are you posting this comment while at work?


Duane Craig reports and writes on technology, construction, finance, food, and agriculture. He's been published in trade print magazines, the Washington Post, and widely on the web.

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