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Social Media and work: An evolving discipline

Celéste Olivier

With an increase in the use of social media, a joke doing the rounds tells the story that You Tube, Twitter and Facebook will migrate into one social media platform called YourTwitFace. Social media exploded and with 900 million Facebook users, 340 million tweets posted on Twitter and many more interaction on sites like Linkedin. Social media and the internet have literally taken over our lives. These days, people find it very difficult not to post pictures of their lunch or new puppy on Facebook or tweet about how many push-ups they managed to do in the gym or how many sales they made for the day.

Social media can be valuable or destructive for business

Although social media in the workplace can be a valuable tool for business it also has the potential to cause serious problems. In her article, Employees Gone Wild: 8 Reasons you need a social media policy today, Anthonia Akitunde shares the story of a Burger King employee in Japan who posted a photo of himself lying on a pile of burger buns to Instagram. Stories like these can do massive brand damage for companies. It is therefore not surprising that many HR professionals, senior leaders and line managers in business are still struggling to understand the full impact of social networks and technology on the workplace.

According to the Kelly Global Workforce Index, managing the workplace issues associated with social media is an evolving discipline. The attitudes towards social media are far from uniform. Depending on the demographic profile of your company, you might see disconnects among employees around their view on the use of social media. It's likely that organisations might see four generations of employees in the same workspace. Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Generation Yers (Millennials) are, according to Jessica Miller-Merrell , all likely working in many organisations, making the balance between employee engagement, recruitment, communication and technology complicated. Miller-Merrell argue that Millennials (born between 1984 and 2002), now outnumber their boomer parents in the workforce and in most case,s are the driving factor in the rapid change in social media.

The Index found that Gen Y (36%) and Gen X (30%) are more likely to see it as acceptable to use social media for personal use at work, compared to 19% of Baby Boomers. It is therefore not surprising that the Baby Boomer generation mostly believed that using social media in the workplace impacts productivity negatively.

Dan Pontefract's research highlights that although more companies are utilising social media for business opportunities, they have become stricter about policies and blocking sites. It seems that many companies identified that problems could occur when employees abuse work internet access for personal use during work hours.

According to Kirstin Swain, allowing employees to access social media profiles online during work hours can be a distraction. Often employees lose valuable time playing games, talking to friends or updating their own personal profiles.

Here are some of the negative consequences that organisations need to consider about the impact of employees accessing their social media profiles in work time:

1. Productivity

Accessing social networks in work hours means that employees are spending time on aspects that aren't work related. As a result, they're not focusing on the work they're required to do. It could also lead to employees making more unnecessary mistakes at work because their focus is split.

2. Presenteeism

When employees access their social media profiles, they tend to become involved in the status updates and stories on their profiles. This takes away their focus at work and could lead to a large number of employees focusing on issues that aren't work related.

3. Resources

The amount of bandwidth used by employees accessing video links posted on the various social media sites could create problems for IT administrators.

4. Viruses and malware

Hackers are attracted to social networking sites because of the potential to commit fraud and launch span and malware attacks.

It appears that there is no easy answer for the social media question in the workplace. What is clear is that companies need to decide what they are comfortable with as a business and communicate this to all its employees clearly.

One of the ways to do this is to create a social media policy

Anthonia Akitunde highlighted the following key elements of a good social media policy:

  • It creates a safe space for employees to share their concerns before going online. Encouraging employees to bring grievances to their line manager and or HR manager before taking it to social media could prevent future challenges in the business.
  • It outlines what's considered confidential information. Employers are encouraged to define what kind of information employees can and can't share on their social media profiles.
  • It sets out the consequences of employees' actions online. Employees need to know that they can be held responsible for the things they publish online. Define for employees the consequences of what can happen if they engage in behaviour that can cast their employer in a negative light.
  • It designates a company spokesperson responsible for answering questions about your company on social networks.
  • It discusses the appropriate way to engage with others online
  • It discusses what's considered illegal
  • It reflects the company's culture.

Celéste Olivier is the EAP manager at Kaelo Consulting. She has a BA in social work from the Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg) and an MA in occupational social work from the University of the Witwatersrand.