Over the past decade, social media use has become increasingly ubiquitous, with 72 percent of Americans indicating that they are active on at least one social media platform.1 In this connected environment—and particularly since the rise of smartphones has placed these platforms literally at our fingertips—it is only natural for people to engage with social media while at work. Because engagement with social media is typically seen as a leisure activity, a debate has persisted over the years as to whether or not it is an appropriate workplace behavior.2
Below, we’ve outlined some of the pros and cons of allowing or encouraging employees to access social media in the workplace. Read on to learn how to strike the perfect balance between social media use and productivity in any business setting.
The Pros: Creativity and Productivity
Numerous studies have found social media in the workplace to have a positive impact on workers’ attitudes and performance. Of a group of healthcare employees surveyed and observed in a study discussed in the Harvard Business Review, employees who interacted with their coworkers through social media blogs demonstrated higher levels of motivation and a greater propensity to generate creative and innovative ideas than their colleagues who did not.3 And a 2017 study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior similarly found a positive link between time spent on Facebook and employee job satisfaction.4
Many businesses today benefit from their own corporate use of social media channels as well. A thoughtfully maintained social media presence can be an effective marketing tool for any business, and some savvy companies also utilize social media to contact employees about policy changes, events and other announcements.5
The Cons: Legal issues and Turnover Potential
While fears that the use of social media in the workplace serves as a “productivity killer” seem to be misplaced, there are still potential drawbacks to its use. Interactions between coworkers on social media channels can create thorny human resources issues in cases where such interactions lead to harassment or other inappropriate behavior. And accessing social media networks on company-owned devices can create security issues, creating pathways for hackers or viruses to come into contact with sensitive internal data.5
Additionally, the same study that found that creativity and morale were boosted by social media use at work also indicated that employees who engaged more frequently in social media activity were more likely to leave their organization in the near term. The authors of this study attribute this behavior to their ability to grow their professional network through these channels, as well as to search directly for new jobs on sites like LinkedIn.3
Management Solutions for Social Media in the Workplace
Given the mix of positive and negative implications that social media can have for companies, a strong policy governing its appropriate usage is crucial. Blocking social media totally on company computers both tends to produce negative results in terms of morale and is generally futile. Employees will still access these channels on their own personal devices, and they maybe more inclined to discuss your organization in a negative light on them as a result.2
A flexible policy outlining appropriate behaviors is thus the most effective strategy for managing the use of social media in the workplace. A clear, well-articulated policy will educate employees about the potential risks of accessing social media at work, describe interactions and content that are appropriate for the workplace and those that are not, and set standards for permissible amounts of access time.5 Social media is too powerful and potentially beneficial to prohibit entirely, so savvy companies will strive to utilize it to their benefit.
A Healthy Perspective on Social Media in the Workplace
Perhaps the best way to understand social media in the workplace is not as an invasive force, but as part of a broader change in the way our culture interacts with media. As we are increasingly connected to internet-enabled devices, we are experiencing a blurring of the distinction between labor and leisure time in multiple settings.
Working professionals today are just as likely to check their work email on their phone when they wake up in the morning or over breakfast, or to work on their laptops on a wi-fi-enabled commuter train, as they are to thumb through their Twitter feed or watch a cute cat video on YouTube in the office.2 The sanest approach to our current media environment is to accept the looseness of this boundary as simply a necessary change in the way companies interact with their employees rather than a threat to the established order.
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1 Retrieved on July 24, 2019, from pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media/
2 Retrieved on July 24, 2019, from hiring.monster.com/employer-resources/workforce-management/employee-performance/blocking-social-media-us/
3 Retrieved on July 24, 2019, from hbr.org/2018/05/employees-who-use-social-media-for-work-are-more-engaged-but-also-more-likely-to-leave-their-jobs
4 Retrieved on July 24, 2019, from chron.com/impact-social-media-workplace-pros-cons-22611.html
5 Retrieved on July 24, 2019, from shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/managingsocialmedia.aspx