The onset of social media in the past decade has brought with it a lot of change. From the way people interact and keep in touch with each other to the way companies market their products and services, social media has significantly altered, without hyperbole, the way the world works.
The workplace is not exempt from the effects of social media. Social networks like LinkedIn allow colleagues and professional acquaintances to connect, communicate, and share business advice. With social sites, like Glassdoor, employees and former employees can offer insight into the companies at which they work to the public; from salaries to corporate culture, this information is made available to prospective employees or curious readers.
While the development of social media has various benefits for the workplace, there are also substantial drawbacks that managers should be aware of and ready to deal with. The main issue that comes into play in the discussion of social media and the workplace is the following: Should employers actively block social media sites to prevent employees from becoming distracted while they should be focused on work-related activities?
Proskauer, a global law firm, recently published a study called “Social Media in the Workplace Global Study.” Its 2014 results suggested that 36% of employers actively block access to social media sites, compared to 29% in 2012. Additionally, 43% of businesses permit all of their employees to access social media sites — a fall of 10% from 2012. The study seems to imply that companies are trending toward blocking social media sites on not only computers, but on personal devices as well.
Loss of productivity seems to be the main driver for blocking social media for employees — as Cerait points out, if every employee in a 50-strong workforce spent 30 minutes on a social networking site every day, that would work out to a loss of 6,500 hours of productivity in one year!
But besides productivity concerns, there are a number of other considerations that are not addressed as often. Perhaps most importantly, a company’s reputation and legal liability are on the line when its employees access social media from the corporate network.
According to WeComply, a Thomson Reuters provider of online compliance training solutions, specific legal risks associated with social media in the workplace include employees’ misuse of confidential information, misrepresentation of the views of the business, inappropriate non-business use, disparaging remarks about the business or employees, and harassment.
WeComply reports that 70% of employers report taking disciplinary action against an employee for misusing social media — a big jump from 35% in 2012. Perhaps consequently, more and more companies are taking measure to protect themselves legally. The number of companies with social media policies increased from 60% to 80% from 2012 to today.
Taking everything into consideration, the issue of how to deal with social media in the workplace is something every company should take seriously. While the trend is for companies to create open, laid-back workplace environments, the serious risks associated with allowing employees to freely use social media during work hours should be taken into account in the decision-making process.