Wasting Time with Social Media

If there is one unlimited resource in this world, it’s the human capacity to find ways to avoid work. Everyone has had an hour or a day when it was very hard to focus on the thing that had to be done. So what have we done instead? Anything but that one required thing. This is a fact of a life, a fact of human nature — possibly since our cave dwelling days. Who wouldn’t rather draw pictures on a cave wall instead of monotonously rubbing sticks together to make fire? Now, fast forward to the 21st century.  Who hasn’t thought longingly about their Facebook wall when what they needed to do was complete an expense report?

There’s no question that social media presents a powerful distraction for workers.  However, it’s not the first and it won’t be the last.  What do you do about employees who make personal calls or send personal emails on the job?  Or spend too long on bio breaks?  Or gossip in the halls? Or surf the net? Or play solitaire? Or indulge in tech-free daydreaming?

So what’s the solution?  Turn every workplace into a police state?  That’s one approach.  But employer controls are only as good as the last big technology – or the last employee workaround the employer caught.  And, to do it correctly, you’d have to confiscate cellphones and personal computers at the door.  Do you really want to go there?

Some companies have responded with detailed social media and internet usage policies.  However, when these policies are focused on employee productivity rather than the technology itself, they miss a key point.  Employee performance is fundamentally a human resources issue rather than a technology issue.  A highly motivated, engaged employee can do more good with little technology than a distracted, unfocused, disengaged employee can do with state of the art technology.  Equally, that highly motivated, engaged employee will be far less prone to distraction and time wasting — at either the physical or electronic water cooler.

As companies have been confronting the opportunities and challenges of social media, some have made social media the whipping boy for deficiencies in the way they manage.  It might make more sense to focus energy on how to keep employees engaged and motivated, rather than using technology policies to curb poorly managed employees.

[Photo Credit:  Khaosprinzessin]

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12 thoughts on “Wasting Time with Social Media

  • March 30, 2010 at 10:29 am
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    Great Post!

    I think that far to often companies are bashing social media as a huge time suck. When they should be putting in place policies that facilitate as well as control the usages of these sites.

    Cutting off employee access to the sites will only force them to find workarounds to access the sites anyway. Using proxies or whatever.

    I think enabling employees to have a voice online for the company can help put a human face on the company and set them up for success in this new social web.

    As for the time suck, it's the employers job to educate employees on using social media time management tools like hootsuite and Converse (http://bit.ly/smconverse) to schedule out messaging at one time so they are not getting distracted throughout the day.

    -Just my 2 cents =)

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  • March 30, 2010 at 3:19 pm
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    There's an interesting whitepaper download from Palo Alto Networks, “To Block or Not. Is that the question?” here: http://bit.ly/9f8WOT. It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc.) The paper shows that it doesn't have to be an “all or nothing” proposition for companies.

  • March 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm
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    I don't think I understand your penultimate paragraph. Are you saying that policies predicated on technology use are good and those reflecting productivity concerns are bad? If so, I would disagree, and I think it would also contradict your last paragraph.

  • March 30, 2010 at 9:18 pm
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    Thanks, David. This clearly is an area in which employers and employees are
    still groping towards better answers. You've suggested some ways that
    social media can be used more productively and efficiently. Undoubtedly,
    organizations and individuals will discover additional ways as we all get
    more accustomed to using these tools.

    – Mary

  • March 30, 2010 at 9:25 pm
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    Thanks for the link, Lisa.

    – Mary

  • March 31, 2010 at 12:51 am
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    Mark –

    That penultimate paragraph was intended to illustrate that technology is
    neutral in this instance. What matters is whether the employee is motivated
    and engaged. A disengaged employee will always find a way to waste time,
    regardless of the availability of technology. Therefore, it would seem that
    the better approach for companies is to focus on ensuring that their
    employees remain motivated and engaged. Unfortunately, I hear all too often
    of managers that haven't figured out how to do this successfully and are,
    instead, focused on creating policies and procedures that attempt to stop
    disengaged employees from spending time in unproductive ways. This suggests
    that they haven't understood that while time wasting may be a symptom,
    disengagement is the cause.

    The key is to hire good people and manage them well so they remain engaged.
    In these circumstances, they are more likely to use the technology in a
    professional, responsible manner. At bottom, it's an issue of leadership and
    management rather than a particular technology.

    – Mary

  • March 31, 2010 at 2:46 am
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    In that case, we are absolutely in agreement. I am relieved!

  • March 31, 2010 at 3:24 am
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    Me too!

  • March 31, 2010 at 4:51 am
    Permalink

    Mark –

    That penultimate paragraph was intended to illustrate that technology is
    neutral in this instance. What matters is whether the employee is motivated
    and engaged. A disengaged employee will always find a way to waste time,
    regardless of the availability of technology. Therefore, it would seem that
    the better approach for companies is to focus on ensuring that their
    employees remain motivated and engaged. Unfortunately, I hear all too often
    of managers that haven't figured out how to do this successfully and are,
    instead, focused on creating policies and procedures that attempt to stop
    disengaged employees from spending time in unproductive ways. This suggests
    that they haven't understood that while time wasting may be a symptom,
    disengagement is the cause.

    The key is to hire good people and manage them well so they remain engaged.
    In these circumstances, they are more likely to use the technology in a
    professional, responsible manner. At bottom, it's an issue of leadership and
    management rather than a particular technology.

    – Mary

  • March 31, 2010 at 6:46 am
    Permalink

    In that case, we are absolutely in agreement. I am relieved!

  • March 31, 2010 at 7:24 am
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    Me too!

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