I’m going to say something that might surprise you: companies shouldn’t worry so much about employees using social media at work.
You might think that as the head of a 40-person agency in an industry known for its tight deadlines and heavy workloads, I’d be highly concerned about employees wasting time on social media when they should be working. That I have to repress the urge to wag my finger and cry “Time theft!” whenever I see employees checking Facebook, posting to Instagram or tweeting.
The thing is, I don’t mind it all that much. Within certain limits, allowing employees access to social media during the day can actually benefit a company.
Here are my top four reasons why companies should embrace their employees’ use of social media at work:
#1. Breaks help employees work more effectively: A growing body of evidence suggests that taking short, periodic breaks during the day helps people achieve higher levels of productivity. In fact, one recent study conducted by The Muse, a career-oriented website, claims that workers can maximize their productivity by working for 52 minutes and then taking a break for 17 minutes. So go ahead and watch highlights from yesterday’s matches—the time off will help you work more efficiently later on.
#2. Respecting your employees is good for business: Part of that means trusting your employees to use their time well and not to let social media distract from their responsibilities. In a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, employees who felt they were treated with respect reported greater job satisfaction and enjoyment, were more focused and better able to prioritize, were less likely to leave the company, and were more engaged overall. Conversely, micromanaging your employees’ time tells them that you don’t respect their judgment, which can have chilling effect on the work environment.
#3. Allowing access to social media means your employees are better informed: Social media is no longer limited to videos of cats and pictures of people’s lunches (or kids). Today, social media can serve as a powerful means to keep on top of breaking headlines, industry news and trends in business. And while this doesn’t necessarily translate to revenues, it does at least make work—and your coworkers—more interesting.
#4. Restricting access to social media on company computers is no longer effective: With the advent of smartphones and high-speed data plans, your employees can access whatever site they want, whenever they want—regardless of whether you let them do so on their work computers. Better to embrace the trend and see what they’re surfing than to have them do it surreptitiously on their phones.
That’s all well and good, you say. But what about the limits you mentioned earlier?
It’s true: companies do need to set clear limits for social media use at work. Unfortunately, there will always be a small number of people who abuse their online privileges at work. How much is too much? There’s no hard and fast formula, but it will be evident if an employee’s social media use is interfering with his or her job—particularly if your IT department uses activity-monitoring software. In this situation, the best policy is to let the employee know that his or her excessive social media use has become problematic and to try to determine if there’s an underlying issue. Wasting time at work could be a sign of some deeper problem, like boredom, job dissatisfaction or inexperience with workplace mores.
But for the majority of employees, setting clear, commonsense social media guidelines—and enforcing them consistently—will help employees make responsible choices. You might also encourage employees to use an activity-tracking app to get an accurate sense of how they are using their time during the day.
Bottom line, companies should not shy away from letting their employees use social media at work. With the right guidelines and policies in place, offering open access to social media can help boost productivity, morale, and make the workplace a more pleasant place to be.