Social Media In The Workplace: To Block or Not to Block

Social Media in the Workplace: To Block or Not to Block

By Staff Writer
In October 15, 2013
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I landed my first job as a copywriter in an advertising agency in 1984 — obviously way before social media existed. One night, a bunch of us stayed late at work to finish up a presentation. My boss was in my office making some copy changes when the phone on my desk rang. He motioned for me to pick it up, which I did, hoping against hope it was an internal call and not — God forbid — a personal call. Sure enough, blasting through the receiver came my girlfriends’ inebriated voices screaming that I was already two Cuervos behind and to hurry the %(&!# up. In that moment, my whole career flashed before my eyes — all two weeks of it — and I braced for impact. But he just laughed, said he was glad I had such a “colorful” social life and sent me on my way.

This dusty memory surfaced the other day when I read an article about companies blocking their employees from using Facebook in the workplace. I found it startling that in 2013, so many employers were putting the kibosh on FB access. Additionally, 15% of American employees claimed they’re blocked from Twitter, 13% from YouTube and (get this) nearly 10% from LinkedIn. Upon further online exploration, I found some blogs on social media in the workplace. One of the most interesting spelled out why companies shouldn’t deny access to their employees. Of those listed, the reasons that struck a chord with me — particularly given that we are, after all, an advertising agency — were collaboration, communication, morale and transparency. In the spirit of fairness, I then searched for articles making the argument against social media in the workplace, and found that the prevailing attitude of “pro-blockers” was something to the effect that, “You get paid to work, not to play on social networks. It’s a waste and abuse of company time.”

Even after owning an advertising agency for nearly ten years, most of which came after the dawn of social media, I had to stop for a minute and wonder: Is giving our employees unfettered access actually crimping our productivity? Are staffers shirking responsibilities and blowing deadlines because they’re too absorbed in their news feeds? Is social media in the workplace really something that should be monitored, limited or outlawed?

I thought back to late 2006, when Facebook first cast its net beyond universities to include anyone aged 13 or older with an e-mail address. At the time, we wrestled with how to best manage Facebook and other social media in the workplace because there weren’t any best practices to follow. We decided to caution employees that surfing the internet and interacting on social sites was fine, but needed to be done during lunch time, breaks or after hours. As the years rolled on, even those squishy guidelines seemed superfluous, so we just left well enough alone.

Let’s go back to the story of my ill-timed personal phone call. When I told my friends at the bar that my boss (and probably the rest of the department) had overheard their shenanigans over the phone, they were mortified. That is, until I boasted that he’d been amused, maybe even a bit envious. Which, in the end, boosted the likeability ratings of both my supervisor and the company. (“Wow … that place sounds cool.”) Isn’t this what companies spend millions of dollars trying to convey about themselves? Why shouldn’t we let our employees share this part of their lives with their families and friends? Is it really any different than the personal phone call of days gone by? Yes, there are always those who will take advantage of the freedoms bestowed on them, including social media in the workplace. But isn’t this a rare exception to the rule? In my experience, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

In all the years since social media became a part of our company’s culture and capabilities we offer our clients, the only hiccup I recall — which was more of a gulp at the time — was when I discovered a post by one of our employees who had “friended” me. In it, she announced that she was hungover, tired and bored. This was around 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. Without making mention of the post, I simply handed her a tedious research assignment. (In truth, I was just glad she hadn’t written something like, “Sarah Melamed should NOT be wearing that outfit.”)

At the core of this issue for me is this: We solicited, screened, interviewed and ultimately selected this group of talented individuals because we believed in each one’s unique ability to positively impact our advertising agency. We chose them in large part because of the intangibles that lie between the resume lines, like work ethic, integrity, common sense and loyalty. Our collective guts told us to hire this candidate over that other one. So, why wouldn’t we trust a valued member of our staff to be respectful of company’s time, product and resources?

To me, if you’re not going to lock up the office supply closet, you shouldn’t be locking the gates to social media.

Do you think employees should be allowed to use social media in the workplace? Or should access to Facebook, Twitter and others be blocked?

Staff Writer

So who is this mysterious staff writer? Could be anyone really, as long as they meet our very strict criteria. 1) Worked with us in one capacity or another. 2) Have something pretty interesting to say. 3) Want to use our blog to say it. See? Told ya they were strict!

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