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 workplace). 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.
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.