Blocking social media sites at work

December 23, 2008

About five years ago, a human resources manager I know was railing against her employer who was rejecting her plea to assign email addresses to every employee in the organization. At the time, only middle and executive management, as well as admin support, had personal email accounts. Others who did not require email to do their jobs  could only access email using generic accounts assigned to their unit or office. The HR manager argued that she often wanted to send private messages to specific employees and could not do so using the generic accounts. Managers of these employers resisted, fearing that if employees had their own accounts they would use it for personal, non-work related activities. This scenario seemed bizarre to me at the time but the same argument is now being made by employers with respect to social networking sites such as Facebook or Myspace. I think this is wrong-headed.

Social networking sites versus the telephone

Imagine the same argument being made about the telephone (which I’m sure was when this technology first appeared in the phoneworkplace).  Employees shouldn’t have access to private  phone conversations because they might waste time, use it to make personal appointments or to check on their kids over the lunch hour.

Clearly the issue is one of time management. If you had an employee spending endless hours on the phone during office hours and it was compromising her work, you’d deal with that issue. You probably wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that employees shouldn’t have access to telephones during work hours.

Digital generation expectations

Those entering the workforce today have grown up online—text messaging and using social networking sites. Workplaces that block these tools are sure to face a backlash from young employees. Indeed, I’ve heard some younger employees say they would choose not to work for an employer who blocked access to online social networking tools.  These digital natives are bewildered by the notion that employee work time should exclude contact with social networks. Theirs is a much more fluid environment. They may have to respond to work demands on their own time (via BlackBerry, for example) so to engage with friends and family while in the physical workspace seems equally fair. This attitude is something employers should consider—especially in sectors scrambling to compete for employees.

Missed opportunities

Social networking sites are proving to be an invaluable tool for connecting with donors, customers and other stakeholders. Just ask Barack Obama. Further, involving your employees in social networking campaigns can not only increase their engagement but it can also make your Web 2.0 efforts all the more effective. You can find good case evidence of this in a post on Beth Kanter’s blog where she interviews Wendy Harmon of the American Red Cross. That organization is involved in virtually every kind of Web 2.0 tactic and recently unblocked social networking sites in its offices with great results.

So, does your workplace block social networking sites or have guidelines about their use in place? I’d love to hear about it as well as your thoughts. Please leave a comment.


5 Responses to “Blocking social media sites at work”

  1. Beth Kanter Says:

    I think as nonprofits start to see the value of social media and social networking sites for fundraising, maybe we’ll see a different attitude.

  2. messagecom Says:

    Thank you all for your comments.

    I agree with Kevrichard about the potential to waste time on social networking sites at work but I think this can be addressed with an Internet use policy or guidelines as well as basic managerial oversight.

    Csaba1981 brings up an interesting issue–that of the role of IT managers and access to sites. It’s crucial that IT be part of the organization’s overall decision-making regarding Internet/computer use. Otherwise, that department becomes the default censor. This is a senior management/communications issue, not IT alone.

  3. csaba1981 Says:

    We block them. Or I could say our IT staff do. Although, I am not sure they do so because of our local IT manager or the European HQ.

    At the same time blogs and other similar pages are blocked also. So many times if I am searching for some material, which I want to use for my job (internal communications) I receive the “Access Denied” message.

    Some months ago I went to the IT manager and asked him to allow me to access a specific website. Before he asked the name of the website he asked:”Why do you want it?” I said it is the global website of our company…There were no questions after all…Later he explained that an “intelligent” software decide, which sites can be accessed by the criteria they set up.

    One more thing: It seems we will use a Twitter-like application within the company and IM also from April. I am curious about what will be their concerns regarding those ones.

  4. kevrichard Says:

    I think a lot of good can be done in creating internal communication networks using blogs, messaging and collaborative software but I do think there should still be a level of control in using social media websites as they can be a huge waste on time and cut productivity. Looking at it from a different angle social media has also posed a risk to corporations as the actions of its employees can create a reflection ( positive or negative ) on the company.

  5. Verity Says:

    We do not block social networking sites. I think you are right with the example of the telephone. If a company is worried about employee’s wasting time on the internet then they should probably be more concerned either with the type of employee they have hired or the amount of work they are giving them!

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