Should employers ban access to social networking sites like Facebook at work? If you look at the potential security risks alone, the answer would be resounding yes for most enterprises. Aside from the security risk, there's the huge hit that social networking has had on employee productivity. One estimate -- from IT consulting company Morse -- figures employee use of social-networking sites cost employers $2.25 billion a year in lost productivity.
Yet even with the productivity and security challenges caused by social media, there is no still easy answer to the Facebook ban question. There are, however, plenty of opinions and guidelines that can help your company make a sound decision around the use of social networking from 9 to 5.
First, it helps to consider how other small businesses as well CIOs at large companies are handling the social-networking phenomenon. More than half of CIOs in a Robert Half Technology survey said their firms don't allow employees to visit social-networking sites for any reason while at work.
"Using social-networking sites may divert employees' attention away from more pressing priorities, so it's understandable that some companies limit access," said Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology. "For some professions, however, these sites can be leveraged as effective business tools, which may be why about one in five companies allows their use for work-related purposes."
The Case for At-Work Facebooking
Public-relations and marketing firms -- or PR and marketing divisions within larger enterprises -- are among those who believe employees should be able to update their Facebook status at work.
As a PR firm, social media is a way of life for HMA Public Relations. Abbie Fink, vice president and general manager of the firm, said social networking is a critical component of how the company does business. In fact, she added, clients expect the firm to know and understand social media.
"More important to me than whether or not employees are using or viewing social media during work hours is remembering that although they may maintain personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, there is a very fine line between personal and professional in the online space," Fink said. "You need to be careful what you post [keeping in mind that] your boss, your clients, your future boss, your grandmother... may all be on there, too."
At Invesp, an e-commerce conversion optimization company, supervisors have had to ask employees to cut back on Twitter and Facebook usage, even though the company relies heavily on social-media activities to connect to others within the industry, including partners and potential clients.
"We have specified time the social-media activity can take place, and it's always work-related. We'd like our employees to continue building connections with others through their Invesp Twitter handle, and our Invesp Facebook page," said Ayat Shukairy, managing partner at Invesp. "Business hours are dedicated to business only, even if it is a social-media activity. It's not easy to monitor, but since we have not cut our employees off completely and they can engage others through Facebook, even if it's work-related, it has helped tremendously with productivity."
Avoiding Legal Liabilities
Legal experts have a different perspective about whether companies should ban on-the-job Facebook posts. Some, like Beth Slagle, an attorney with Pittsburgh-based Meyer, Unkovic & Scott, fall back on the standard policy for personal use of corporate resources.
Slagle said employers have the right to prohibit the use of company computers and computer networks for personal use, including for Facebook, other social networking, and personal blogging. Employers can also give their employees social-networking guidelines, including warning that employees will be subject to disciplinary action if they make negative personal comments about the company's products or services or other employees in a profile or blog.
"Employers should beware that in establishing social-networking guidelines that they comply with all pertinent federal and state laws, including labor and antidiscrimination laws," Slagle said. "Employers should also understand that banning or restricting Facebook may meet with employee resistance, especially from younger employees. For example, a 2009 survey by Deloitte found that 63 percent of 18-to-34-year-old employees say that employers have no business monitoring any of their online activity."
Is the Problem Really Facebook?
Social media is no different than offering Internet access at work, according to Lyn Mettler, founder of Step Ahead, a company that develops and manages social-media campaigns for clients.
"It's unacceptable for an employee to be online surfing the Net for personal reasons during work hours, and the same holds true for Facebook and Twitter," Mettler said. "However, the Internet can also help us do our jobs, as can some social-networking tools. In fact, Facebook and Twitter can both be great networking tools, and restricting access could limit new business potential."
Steve Balzac, president of 7 Steps Ahead, a Stow, Mass., coaching and consulting company, says if employers are having a problem with Facebook at work, the problem is not Facebook.
"The use of social networking and the ubiquity of smartphones that can access sites such as Facebook means that employers cannot easily ban [social networking] in any case. Instead, employers need to become considerably more skilled at clearly defining goals and metrics for evaluation," Balzac said.
That way, he added, it doesn't matter whether employees are on Facebook or not: they know what is expected from them, by when, and how they'll be evaluated. If they don't live up to the standards, the employer can take whatever action is deemed appropriate.
"This approach," he said, "removes the conflict over Facebook, lets the employer treat the employees like adults and not children, and gives the employees the power to make their own choices, an important component of motivation."
The Best of Both Worlds
Dani Johnson, author of the number-one Amazon best-seller, Grooming the Next Generation for Success, responds to the Facebook banning question with a series of questions of her own: Does social networking equal employees not working? Is social networking the same thing as having a personal conversation? Is it the same as talking on the phone with a friend about non-work-related issues? Is it the same as making personal plans on company time?
"Last time I checked, we get paid to work and produce results. Our 'personal' social networking should be done on 'personal' time. Employees can use their two 15-minute breaks as well as their lunch breaks to Facebook, tweet, text and talk," Johnson said. "I will say this on the contrary as well. Those mediums are very powerful for business growth and connecting with people you normally would not. Find out who in your office is the best at social networking and turn them loose to help promote your business."
Posted: 2010-09-01 @ 11:28am PT
When I saw who was on this website from work, I realized this was not the place for me as a retired employee to be there. I also learned that "farmers" and "other women" were seeking me out to "play" their stupid games. Sex is very much alive on this stupid website! I still get e-mails from strange women!
Posted: 2010-09-01 @ 10:11am PT
With nearly 20 years of being online, I've evolved to the point where I have absolutely no interest in the social networking phenomenon, and would tend to agree that Facebook and Twitter (honestly, what the hell is Twitter, even?) have no place in the workplace, as a general rule.
Posted: 2010-09-01 @ 8:00am PT
I work for an IT company and as mentioned here in this article it is very hard to police employees. However, upon hiring: there is where the employer has the time and place to simply One Time ~ tell who they are hiring that social networking is not permitted and will not be tolerated under any conditions; violation of this will result in termination, and have them sign a written agreement. This happens to be our company business and I having personal interest for its growth and production not to mention reputation for productivity to clients have found this to be a HUGE issue and waste of company money!! In today’s conditions economic wise....anyone that would go against company requests or agreements and face termination I believe are in the wrong place and need to do a personal check within themselves as to how important income is to them.