It’s that time again . . . the NCAA college-basketball tournament. For several weeks, U.S. basketball fans indulge their passion for the sport. Debating with fellow hoop lovers, building their brackets, and, of course, following the high drama of the Final Four—it’s all part of the college-basketball experience. Many also bring their passion to work, joining betting pools and discussing games with colleagues. In their excitement, some may neglect their work duties and who can blame them? Talking basketball for many is surely more fun than working.
But it’s not just college basketball. If you were to walk the corridors of your company, you’d probably see employees staring at Facebook, posting tweets, and reading LinkedIn posts about . . . whatever. And many would be doing so on their personal devices wherever they are in the building, not just in their office or cubicle.
With all this social media activity, one wonders how any work gets done. And is it possible that social media “vampires” are contributing to the failure of some firms and the weakening of America’s global competitiveness? The jury is still out, but the data certainly raise questions.
For example, according to a Pew Research Center study, 74 percent of all Internet users use social-networking sites. However, younger adults use social media to a much greater degree, with 82 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds participating and 89 percent of 18- to 49-year-olds.
What’s more, Edison Research has found that 22 percent of Americans use social media several times per day, with 23 percent of Facebook users checking their feeds five or more times. According to Edison, the mean number of daily Facebook looks is four.
Now, you might wonder what’s wrong with a quick social-media glance at work? Probably not a lot other than the ethical issue of stealing company time. But for many employees, the looks aren’t quick. According to a study of American workforce inefficiency by researchers at Kansas State University, the average employee spends 60 to 80 percent of his Internet time at work on personal tasks, not work duties.
As you might imagine, this trend is more prevalent among younger employees, also known as “digital natives.” Researchers at the York University (Pennsylvania) Center for Professional Excellence asked hiring managers the degree to which recent college graduates behaved professionally. Just under 50 percent (48.6 percent) said fewer than 50 percent of new employees exhibited professional conduct in their first year. One big reason was poor computer etiquette and misuse of company IT resources. For example, the survey found that 73 percent of managers felt young workers texted at inappropriate times, 66 percent felt that new recruits used the Internet inappropriately, and nearly 60 percent pointed to excessive cell phone usage as a cause of unprofessionalism. They also found social-media misuse to be a big problem, with 65 percent of managers saying younger workers used Twitter and Facebook way too much on the job.
The amount of time spent on social media isn’t the only troublesome aspect. It’s also that employees—new and experienced alike—sometimes engage in inappropriate conduct while online. They may view and share sexually explicit content, opening up the firm to harassment complaints and lawsuits. They may post proprietary information that weakens their company’s competitive position or negative opinions that hurt its reputation. Bottom line, left unchecked, inappropriate social media use can weaken a company’s productivity and even hurt employee morale. So what should a company owner or executive do?
First, acknowledge the importance of establishing appropriate social-media norms, policies, and enforcement systems. This isn’t just for competitive or legal reasons. It’s also for ethical reasons. Think about the impact of excessive social-media use on employees who actually spend their work day working. It shows them that management doesn’t care about maintaining discipline; that employees can do whatever they’d like, even though their loafing makes everyone else work harder; and that management condones theft of a valued company resource—time. Are these the messages you want to send employees?
Second, consider the underlying causes of social-media abuse, including:
Employee inability or unwillingness to recognize appropriate boundaries between their personal and professional lives. American culture today seems to promote this breakdown. Therefore, the only way to counter such a pervasive trend is to make your firm’s culture more disciplined than the culture at large.
- Employee inability to reduce time spent on social-media due to its powerful addictive qualities. “Social media is addictive precisely because it gives us something that the real world lacks. It gives us immediacy, direction, and a sense of clarity and of value as an individual,” says David Amerland, author of The Social Media Mind: How Social Media is changing Business, Politics, and Science and Helps Create a New World Order. What’s more, researchers have discovered that talking about oneself on social networks activates the regions of the brain associated with pleasure. Once people experience this feeling, it takes more and more social-media “clicks” to maintain the same response.
In short, fighting the “social media vampires” will require developing an effective social-media policy for your firm, along with helping your employees fight social-media’s highly addictive nature. Are you ready to take your company back from the social-media abusers who are draining its productivity? Then read Parts 2 and 3 in this series.
For more information on ethical business practices, please visit the National Ethics Association’s Ethics Center. For more information on affordable errors and omissions insurance for low-risk financial advisors, visit E&OforLess.com.