OfficeWe all know that social media can be very effective for promoting and marketing brands, but what about it’s effect on your company’s productivity? I thought, this being a Friday, you might not mind if I strayed a bit from our standard fair and pondered the impact of social media in the workplace.

I’m sure there are many managers out there who have or are struggling with the question of allowing employees to use social media in the office. I know that I’ve seen some that do allow their staff to use it and some that lock it all down. I have to wonder though, is productivity any more of a problem since social media came along?

Has social media created the problem or is it simply the new water cooler where staff may gather to while away a little time? This isn’t really a technology issue, but a staffing and management issue. Blaming technology for human behaviour issues is like chastising your loafers because the puppy ate them.

I don’t dispute that Twitter and Facebook etc can be distracting. However, what I’m contemplating here is whether you should be blaming the technology or your own hiring and management practices. It’s just too damn easy to point the finger at something such as social and rationalize that blocking it will increase productivity.

I also think it’s wrong to adopt policies which affect those who are productive and put in the extra effort both in the office and outside normal hours. I’ve never been able to understand why some bosses out there think it’s more important they own you between 9 to 5 and show little or no real appreciation for the extra work you take home or stay late or come early to do.

People do need a break now and then

Perhaps your staff are distracted because moral is low due to a bad environment. A recent Canadian study found that 35% of HR people said their organization would tolerate just about anything from a manager so long as they got results – leaving HR to clean up the mess, if possible. 73% of HR people reported they spend a significant amount of time dealing with problems caused by bad managers.

Some people like to stare out the window on sunny days and daydream – does this mean we should brick them up? If your employees are distracted by social media then it’s a staffing/culture issue and taking the easy way out by blaming the web or social media is simply glazing over a deeper problem. If your company supervisors are pointing the finger at social media as the issue then I would humbly suggest you take a good hard look at how they manage their people.

It’s really a human nature problem and that’s pretty much always the case. Technology is an avenue and not the driver. Those folks who seem to be distracted so much by social would probably be waylaid if a penny rolled by their feet. They’d find other things to waste time with, be it chatting by the water cooler or wandering the halls chatting up coworkers. Social media didn’t create a problem with productivity in the workplace, it just happens to be the latest and greatest way for those individuals to while away time at jobs they are not engaged by.

People do need a brain break every so often. Richard Sedley cited one study at the recent Fusion Marketing Experience, which claimed we work best if we take a little break every 25 minutes or so. In other words, heavy focus on the task for 25 minutes then take five or ten minutes to reset the brain for the next task. So, having that little distraction via Twitter or Facebook might actually enhance performance for some. At least one recent university study reported in the New Yorker backs that up and suggests companies offer staff “internet breaks” to increase productivity.

I’m not saying that you absolutely must allow people in your office to use social media – that’s entirely your choice. All I’m saying is that when considering your policy don’t be so quick to assume that your problem is technology and not the deeper issue of corporate culture and human behaviour.

Originally posted on our Social Marketing Forum blog and moved as part of an integration.

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