The allure of social media is so intoxicating. It leads you into a vortex of lost time and opportunity, which can’t be replaced or restored. I was having lunch recently with a friend at a chain restaurant, and watched the social media vortex in action over the shoulder of my friend. A father of ten year old red-headed fraternal twins, sat hunched over his smart phone, madly texting, emailing, or surfing the Internet for almost a full hour. While he was sucked away from the present lunch with his delightful children, they entertained themselves.
The two children took turns with their butter knives, making it appear they were stabbing themselves while slipping the knife along the side of their necks. They made dramatic faces at the fake moment of impact, to the delight of their sibling, and to me as I watched them from the next table. When they tired of that game, they drank their children’s size pop and proceeded to use the knives to cut fringe on the top of the empty paper cups. At that point their father looked up and grumbled at them to not make a mess, and immediately returned to his activities on the phone.
When dad finished texting on his smart phone, he grumbled at his children and announced “Let’s go.” He missed a wonderful opportunity to engage with his knucklehead children who appeared full of fun, and ready for adventure. This missed opportunity was gone forever, thanks to social media.
The same allure of social media is also happening all too frequently in workplaces. Several studies have equated the overuse and abuse of social media by employees, with real financial losses to their employers. Based on a survey USA Today reported, “Distractions caused by social media, e-mail and badly designed office technology may cost a 1,000-worker company more than $10 million a year.” The same loss of time and productivity is also being felt by small and mid-size companies, but hasn’t been quantified yet in a survey.
Workplace distractions include employees mindlessly searching the web, endlessly emailing friends, or spending hours on Pinterest, all while being paid to perform work for their employer. The hypnotic effects of the Internet cause employees to lose track of time, and underestimate the actual loss of productive work. Combine social media distractions with routine office interruptions, and employee productivity can sink to all time lows.
But take heart, all is not lost for employers. With a few proactive steps, workplace expectations can be established and relayed to employees.
- Adopt a social media policy which clearly outlines when (breaks, lunch, or never?), how (personal devices, or only company technology?), and how much social media use is permitted (minimal, work purposes only, or no social media use?). Each business will be different and the policy should reflect the unique needs of the business.
- Train the employees on the policy. Have them sign they received the policy and attended the training, and be sure to provide adequate time for employees to ask questions during the training.
- Following-up and monitoring employee use of social media is crucial. First, make sure the Employee Handbook notifies employees that their use of social media, including emails will be monitored by the Company. Employees should be placed on notice they have no expectation of privacy in their use of social media on Company technology. (Note: While employers may restrict the use of an employee’s personal technology devices in the workplace, they may not access an employee’s personal devices without a court order due to privacy rights of the employee). IT should conduct audits of the Company’s technology to insure employee use complies with the Company social media policy.
- Address employee use or abuse of social media as problems arise through coaching, counseling, or discipline.