A study conducted by Peninsula Business Services found that 67 per cent of Irish employees admitted to checking social networking sites during working hours, while research by job site network MyJobGroup.co.uk found that nearly six per cent of employees in the UK spent over an hour per day on social media while at work, amounting to more than one eighth of their entire working day and potentially costing the UK up to £14 billion in lost work time annually.
Peninsula Business Services consultant Tony Kerins says that while 67 per cent of Irish employees have admitted to logging into Facebook or Twitter when they should be working, “there’s quite a possibility that it’s more than that”.
The most obvious impact this has on a company is in terms of productivity, with employees wasting time and resources on activities that Mr Kerins describes as falling into the fourth catergory of author Stephen Covey’s time management framework, which separates tasks in four quadrants based on how important and urgent they are.
Employees engaging with social media, unless for work purposes, clearly falls into the fourth category – not important and not urgent – rendering the employee “inactive, inoperable and not very operational”, according to Mr Kerins, adding that while traditionally laptops or PCs were needed to access social media, smartphones have made access almost instantaneous.
But it’s not just productivity that is affected by social media usage in the workplace. “More often than not it can impact in the area of either allegations of or actual instances of bullying, harassment or victimisation and that’s why the employer really needs to watch it. The interpersonal nature and behaviour of cyber activity can be very negative if not monitored properly,” says Mr Kerins.
Acknowledging that employees have the right to access social media privately in their own time, he stresses that it cannot negatively impact on the organisation. He adds that an IT policy is “absolutely vital” for all organisations and suggests that companies examine whether existing policies adequately reflect the changing nature of social media usage.
“We still need to use social media very positively and proactively but one of the things you need to do first is set to ground rules in terms of staff engagement with it,” he says.
He explains that such a policy should clearly state who is authorised to speak on the company’s behalf and detail the standards required when staff are communicating messages and accessing or transmitting data – particularly in terms of disclosing confidential information about colleagues or clients.
“It’s important to draw a line between the corporate presence and boundaries and people’s general use of social media. Sometimes we can stray off the fact that we’re using it for corporate purposes and we tend to forget ourselves and use it for personal purposes at the same time,” he explains.
Company policies should also clearly define acceptable social media usage and what is considered bullying or harassment. “You wouldn’t stand up in the middle of the office with a couple of glasses of wine on board and tell the either assembled group and public at large what you think about your manager or supervisor, so why would you do it on Facebook or Twitter at 11 o’clock at night?” says Mr Kerins, adding that with a touch of a button, a comment can develop a life of its own.
“Everything you share on a social networking site has the potential to end up worldwide, even if you didn’t intend it. You’re looking at the screen thinking, ‘This is private, this is on a closed profile or group’. It just needs one person to retweet or broadcast that again and it’s gone on you.”
Numerous instances of employees abusing customers through official company accounts have ‘gone viral’ in recent years, showing the ease with which a single off-the-cuff comment can have far reaching consequences.
But more isolated comments can also have a negative impact on a company’s reputation with customers, clients or suppliers, according to Mr Kerins. “Because everybody is doing one of two things in an organisation; they’re either selling or unselling it. How often are your staff unselling your organisation on their Facebook?”
Mr Kerins also recommends that a company’s IT policy clearly states the consequences of unacceptable social media use in line with existing disciplinary procedures.
“It doesn’t have to be complicated; the main message is that when you’re conducting yourself online it shouldn’t differ from your offline conduct.”