Is banning social media in the workplace the right approach?

This morning whilst I was out in the car (not driving BTW) I read a tweet from JudithELS that said:

"Naughty employees – well rules are there to break, aren't they? http://tinyurl.com/28r8mvg"

The link took me to a Mashable post, entitled Employees Ignore Social Media Policies, Play “FarmVille” on Company Time [STUDY] that reported a Cisco study that showed  …

"that workers in the
enterprise are accessing their favorite social networking sites on
company-issued equipment even when corporate policies prohibit them from
doing so."

I groaned .. not yet another study on the evils of the distractions of social media for employees. I decided not to tweet an immediate reply but to wait till I got back to base to provide a more considered response.  However, in the meantime, Jane Bozarth responded:

"If (invoke sarcastic tone) "social media" would go away, then employees could get back to being productive 100% of the day."

Of course, Jane is absolulelty right.  Haven't we heard all this before, when email and Instant messaging arrived – how distracting all that was?

Unfortunately, this is often the feedback I receive when I talk about the use of social media in the workplace – that it's all just a distracting waste of time for employees! 

But my response is that banning social media is pretty useless anyway – as many studies show, individuals are accessing it on their own mobile devices   And reprimanding users for accessing sites is also not an appropriate response; it is much more important to consider employee performance; if this suffers (due to excessive use or for any other reason) then that should be the reason for a reprimand.

Although the Cisco report, mentioned above, does point to more serious security issues, access to the Social Web is becoming an important feature of modern business life.  It would be far better to provide help to those who need it about how to use social media sites effectively and responsibly rather than shutting it down to stop a few people playing Facebook games – this will surely do more harm than good for an organisation.

11 thoughts on “Is banning social media in the workplace the right approach?

  1. Dave Brown

    I agree with you whole-heartedly Jane. It makes no sense whatsoever to ban access during work time, or even to tell people not to use it. If you ban it you make it more attractive.
    By saying “Don’t push the big red button, whatever you do…” you draw attention to it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    Let people have their fix – just as smokers in my office pop off for theirs, or others go off for a latte. We return to our desks (if we left them) refreshed and ready for the next work-related topic.
    I suggest if you’re playing Farmville you have other issues and perhaps shouldn’t be in full-time work anyway ;o)

  2. Ibrahim Elbadawi

    Interesting article Jane, I’m going through this debate also while working on the social media policy for gov, I think the concluding paragraph puts in a clear and simple way. Let’s not forget that social media is not the only possible way to waste time and distract employees @ workplace, unnecessary meetings top the list in my opinion.
    Thanks

  3. Ibrahim Elbadawi

    Interesting article Jane, I’m going through this debate also while working on the social media policy for gov, I think the concluding paragraph puts in a clear and simple way. Let’s not forget that social media is not the only possible way to waste time and distract employees @ workplace, unnecessary meetings top the list in my opinion.
    Thanks

  4. Eric

    Yes, banning the usage of social networks is a stupid idea. And using those networks is also considered a waste of time (and that is certainly true). But the fact is that we are now used to connect daily to all our networks and this won’t change now.
    Companies should embrace these new tools and see what can be done to avoid the waste of time. The social intranet might be a solution to allow employees to have their daily “fix” of social interaction while contributing to a better collaboration within the departments.

  5. Britz

    I agree Jane. I wrote a bit about this recently in my blog: Stop Censoring & Start Managing. Seems to me that SM should never be blamed for a company’s performance issues. If people are choosing to mess around with Social Media on work time, they were messing around before Social Media (this is a hiring issue, no?). The real problem is an Org’s inability to set clear performance expectations for employees around the real work that is to be done for the organization.

  6. Lee74

    It’s such a throwback to that industrialised style of managing ‘time’ rather than focusing on performance. If someone is excellent at their job and gets great results is it relevant that they play farmville? Maybe that’s how they get back on track when they’re stuck or maybe that’s their most effective way of switching off for five minutes (better than smoking and that used to be widely acceptable!).
    Companies with bans on social media have poor management.

  7. philipbradley

    She wasn’t using social media. She was playing a game. It’s an entirely different issue and the ‘social media’ reference is simply a smokescreen. Banning the use of resources & access to social media content is akin to removing a computer from someone’s desk because they’re playing Microsoft Solitaire on it.

  8. Jane Hart

    Good point, Phil – and do you remember the days (still probably happening) when Solitare and all games were removed from company PCs. It really is time for organisations to treat people like adults and not recalcitant children. In fact I would go so far as to say that attitudes like that actually breeds recalcitrant adults 😉

  9. Thomas Stone

    I agree with you Jane. And this posting (and your follow-up on this topic also) reminded me of this great passage from one of Jay’s postings: http://www.internettime.com/2009/12/bipolar-decision-making/
    “We’re asking the wrong questions. It’ not ‘Should we or shouldn’t we?’ It’s ‘How much?’
    Social media is not either/or. It’s ‘some.’ It’s already happening. Your employees do have smart phones, don’t they? And most have computers at home? This is not peek-a-boo; when you close your eyes, social networking doesn’t go away. Your employees, customers, and competitors are already involved.”
    The gem is the analogy to the child’s game of “peek-a-boo”. I like that so much I’ve used it in some of my presentations even.

  10. Nahla

    I am sorry, I don’t agree with you, Jane. I was the first one to speak against this banning policy in our organization, and I had some arguments about it with my boss. But later on, before Facebook was officially banned, I had the chance to notice so many people playing on petsociety (when petsociety was really popular)and spending hours doing so. The performance was indeed affected and it was known for fact that all they did was just play. So, when my boss finally made the decision to ban it, I was totally pro. So, yes of course it depends on the people, if they’d been wiser it would’ve been different. But in that case, why keep the temptation when you know no good would come out of it?

  11. Jane Hart

    Nahla – it should have been made clear that if by using FB their performance decreased, then they would be reprimanded. If their work is boring, they will find other things to distract them or more likely find ways to access FB on other personal devices. Now you will probably find you have disgruntled, unmotivated employees – not a very good outcome! I think dealing with such issues requires a much less heavy handed approach, and I’m pleased to say that many organisations are also beginning to see the light too!

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