Social Media in the Workplace: Does your work productivity suffer?

By: Mark Quadros

Social media in the workplace has become a huge part of our everyday lives. It’s one of those technologies that we can’t seem to get enough of.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media networks help us connect with the world around us. We use it as a source of entertainment, information, and a medium through which we share aspects of our lives with friends, families, and even colleagues.

Social media helps us achieve visibility both online and offline. It allows us to forge relationships without distance being a barrier. Even businesses are leveraging the power of social media to reach more customers and engage with their audience on a deeper and better level.

We use social media a lot in our personal and professional lives, so it’s not surprising that the distinction between the two often gets blurry.

Research shows that employees spend an average of 1.5 hours on social media at work every day. When you add up these hours for every employee for a week, a month, a year, the numbers start to look a little worrisome for employers.

The question then becomes whether the use of social media at work is a productivity killer. However, the answer is not as straightforward as you might think. As with many things in life, social media in the workplace has its pros and cons.

In this article, we’re going to explore the impact of social media on workplace productivity to help you create a solution that works for your company and its employees.

What the data reveals

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that 12% of workers use social media to ask work-related questions of people within and outside their organizations, while 17% use it to learn more about their colleagues and build personal relationships with coworkers.

But that’s not all. About 20% use social media at work to get information to help solve problems at work, 24% use it to build professional connections, 27% to connect with friends and family, and 34% of employees use it to take a mental break from their work.

According to the Harvard Business Review, 82% of employees see social media as a way to improve work relationships and 60% leverage the powers of social media to support decision making.

Similarly, a study by the University of Melbourne found that 70% of workers who used the internet for work engaged in leisure browsing but were 9% more productive on average than workers who didn’t participate in such activities.

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According to Atlassian, the average employee is interrupted from their work 56 times a day and they spend two hours daily recovering from interruptions.

About 65% of employees admit to using the internet for non-work purposes throughout the workday. It has been estimated that disengaged employees cost the United States between $450 billion and $550 billion annually.

Positive effects of social media on workplace productivity

Social media can be a great tool that can be utilized for the benefit of your company and employees. Some of the things you stand to gain from allowing or encouraging social media use at work include:

1. Increased morale and employee engagement

Being able to check social media can make your staff happy and motivate them to work for a variety of reasons.

  • It will make them feel valued.
  • Connecting with the people they care about will improve their moods.
  • It shows that you trust them to get their work done.
  • It gives them a chance to relax and unwind in between long hours spent tackling work tasks.

Allowing social media use can boost morale and overall motivation. No matter how hardworking they are, people need to zone out from time to time so they can regain concentration.

Short social media breaks can serve as a reminder of how wonderful life is beyond work, leading to energy being replenished and a higher total net concentration, which ultimately translates to elevated productivity levels.

Keeping your staff happy can boost productivity by about 12% and lead to a more engaged workforce, which, in turn, results in a profit increase of over $2400 per employee. Allowing social media use seems like a small price to pay for that.

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2. Improved internal communications

Social media can be used as a communication tool. When employees are able to connect through social media channels, they get to know each other better, contribute knowledge and expertise to improve functionality, and learn to communicate more effectively with one another.

Studies have shown that employees who engage in online interactions with coworkers through social media tend to come up with innovative ideas and be more motivated. They can share meaningful work experiences, insights and solutions, and develop a sense of community that can promote teamwork, efficiency, morale, and loyalty better than a hundred work retreats.

3. Personal and professional development

There’s a lot of information on social media that your employees can leverage to take their skills to the next level and achieve professional development.

From articles to case studies, debates and news stories, tutorials, and even course recommendations, there’s a huge knowledge base on social media waiting to be consumed, and dedicated employees can take advantage of them to build themselves up.

Social media can also be used by your staff to connect with other professionals, working in various industries. The external relationships they forge may lead to them generating new ideas, quality leads, partnerships, and other business opportunities for the company.

4. Employer branding

Social media content shared by your employers can reach 561% further and generate 800% more engagement than content shared by your company’s official channels. That said, make sure you have a solid content strategy to product effective content at scale.

If leveraged properly, social media can work wonders for your brand visibility and image. Encouraging your employees to share positive content—articles, success stories, videos or live stream of the work culture, and funny thoughts or happenings around the office—can impress potential and existing customers.

People are more likely to remember and patronize the business whose employees are always posting interesting things, engaging their audience on a personal level, and showing off the company culture on social media.

Instead of risking lower retention rates, social media can put the spotlight on your workers, making them feel appreciated, and turn your company into a recruitment magnet.

5. Enhanced innovation and performance

Social media fosters communication between parties that may not otherwise interact, thereby facilitating a merging of intellects that can spark creativity and ideas, which may positively impact the growth of the company.

Brands like Starbucks and Threadless have used social media time and time again to innovate their products and campaigns with the help of their employees. Social media can help your staff get real-time feedback on their ideas and projects, which may lead to improvements, saving time and other resources in the long run.

Cons of social media use in the workplace

So what’s the downside of allowing social media use at work? There are a few stumbling blocks to productivity that you might want to consider before making a decision to ban or encourage the use of social media in the workplace.

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1. Distractions and time-wasting

Time passes very quickly on social media. An employee might decide to just scroll through their Twitter timeline for a minute, only to end up spending hours chatting with their mutuals and reveling in the gist of the day.

Most people can control the amount of time they waste on social media, especially during work hours, but some might find it difficult to fight off their addiction and focus on work. And if you’re in the latter, you’ll find that you’re stuck with busy schedules with not enough time to work or even sleep (something that’s very important to stay productive).

In a recent study, 70% of companies reported taking disciplinary actions against employees for their misuse of social media.

Excessive use of social media at work can lead to decreased attention span, productivity and efficiency, loss of revenue, and even potentially open your company up to liability.

2. Cybersecurity risks

People don’t always take necessary precautions and care when surfing social media, and this can pose a serious technical risk to the company when certain social media content is accessed using company internet and equipment. This is a bigger problem if you manage a remote team where employees access the internet from their private networks.

It’s not uncommon for social media accounts to get hacked. Employees may download a file or an app off social media, which unknown to them contains viruses and other malicious software that can wreak havoc on your company data and systems. This might result in important information getting compromised or lost, loss of huge streams of revenue, and in extreme cases, might result in the business shutting down permanently.

Jeremy Noronha, an experienced remote worker shares, “ When working from home I always use VPNs to protect myself and my clients from potential attacks. Additionally, I make sure I connect to a private WiFi hotspot for extra security.”

Similarly, I recommend to follow best practises both within your company, and with (remote) workers. This will ensure you mitigate online security threats when your employees are accessing social media.

3. Impact on mental health

What happens on social media can have a great effect on people’s moods and attitudes. The constant stream of bad news and vile opinions, peer pressure, cyberbullying, targeted harassment, and other hostilities can trigger depression, anxiety and mental stress in staff members, making them incapable of competently or swiftly handling their work tasks.

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Social media is a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves and sharing stories about their lives, but unfortunately, what they share can also be used to judge, attack, or spread false opinions about them.

It’s possible for coworkers to use the information that an employee shares on social media to taunt, discriminate, or do some sort of harm to that employee’s personal and professional well-being.

4. Threat to brand reputation

Employees can easily get carried away on social media and end up posting something that paints your company in a bad light, causing a major blow to your reputation that might take thousands of dollars and several months to restore.

We’ve all witnessed some epic social media fails that have gone viral for all the wrong reasons. The last thing any company wants is to be on the hot side of that action because an employee posted something negative on social media.

There’s also the risk of an employee accidentally revealing confidential information which may bring about significant harm to the business.

5. Increased employee turnover

Recent studies have revealed that employees who use social media during work hours were more likely to engage with potential new employers and leave the company than their counterparts who didn’t.

Although these employees were more productive and engaged, they were also more inclined to seek external job opportunities.

By preventing social media use in the workplace or limiting its use to employee communication and collaboration alone, businesses might be able to retain their employees and keep productivity from suffering due to the exit of a staff member.

Keep it cool and emphasize responsibility

As you can see, social media at work can simultaneously contribute to unproductive and productive behaviors. It’s a double-edged sword that should be wielded with purpose and care.

Using social media in the workplace has been proven to increase morale, engagement, innovation, employer branding, communication with coworkers, all of which are beneficial to the overall productivity of a company.

However, it has also been shown to compromise employee retention, mental health, business security, and brand reputation. This means that the decision to outlaw or allow social media at work depends on your company and its employees.

Whatever you decide, it’s always a good idea to outline your social media policy, so everyone clearly understands what’s expected and not expected of them. Your policy should reflect the values, character, goals of your organization, and be tailored to optimize performance.

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