Ragan Communications has posted an article (in which I was quoted) dealing with the issue of employers blocking access to social media sites. The response has been interesting. I started responding in the comment area, but that’ll just take too much room. Here are the points made by various commenters and my responses (I’m not naming the authors of the comments because the personality issue is not relevant):
In response to my assertion that most people won’t abuse the privilege: “Most people abuse everything they can get their hands on.”
The deep cynicism that characterizes this statement aside, I have to keep coming back to one of my ke points: I’m not suggesting a lack of rules, only that the rules be addressed by management and not technology. I’m all for rules.
But, okay, let’s address the cynicism. The author of this remark would also feel comfortable with a statement like, “Maybe there’s a little bit of good in most people, but by and large they’re bad.” You can brand me an optimist, but I don’t believe that. What’s more, people can receive incentives to do the right thing if an innate belief in doing the right thing isn’t enough. In business, those incentives come in the form of promotions, raises, and bonuses, none of which will be coming your way if you don’t produce.
There have been plenty of studies supporting the nature of incentives that are effective in the workplace. Access to Facebook won’t change any of them.
I argue that denying access to everyone is tantamount to saying, “We don’t trust any of you as far as we can throw you.” Here’s a comment: “Rules and laws don’t diminish trust necessarily. They facilitate function. Do you distrust your government because of speed limits? C’mon.”
Blocking access is neither a rule nor a law. It’s an impediment, an obstacle. A rule says, “Company computer resources will be used primarily for work purposes.” Enforcement of the rule is a supervisor’s job. I just don’t understand why people have an issue with this. As I’ve noted so many times, nobody is checking your handbag or briefcase as you walk into work to make sure you don’t have a skin mag or a Sodoku book, even though your employer could implement such a draconian policy. No, most companies leave such performance issues in a supervisor’s hands. Why block access to websites for fear people will use them for the same purposes?
“The business of business is to make money. You get paid money to help your company make money. Chit chatting on Facebook, watching vides on YouTube and other social media sites is best left to your personal time, not time your employer is paying you to help make profit or reach targets for the public good.”
This statement is so wrong-minded on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin. Of course, the opening two sentences are dead on. But I have to shake my head at the notion that the time you spend on social media sites is somehow at odds with the profit motive.
Companies (and the author of this statement) are mired in a work model that hasn’t existed for years. What’s changed?
- Knowledge work is not an 9-5 job. Knowledge workers come in early, stay late, and work weekends. They take work home. How much of the time you spend at home is truly “personal time” and how much is time spent on work matters? If your typical work week consumes 65 hours, when, exactly, are you supposed to do those things that, in the 1950s and 60s, was relgated to “personal time?” Work-life integration suggests a trade-off: If I’m going to do work at home, I’m also going to live part of my life at work.
- In knowledge work, productivity is not measured by the number of widgets you produce in an hour. Is work getting done? Is it getting done on time? Does it meet the quality requirements that were set for the assignment? If the answer is “yes,” then your organization is not suffering lost productivity. And by the way, productivity in the U.S. is quite high and growing, according to studies from both the U.S. Department of Labor and the United Nations.
- Multi-directional conversations are the norm. Word of mouth matters. Companies used to count on employees to be brand evangelists and company advocates at PTA meetings, family dinners, and church on Sundays. Today, that extends to the social media space. Employees involved in online communities not only get great feedback that benefits the company, but they can solve customer problems and bolster the company’s reputation.
- Work gets done on social networks; it’s not all idle chit-chat. Think an engineer won’t join an engineering group where he’ll learn about new techniques and be able to bounce ideas off other engineers? Think a salesman won’t watch a YouTube video that addresses a sales technique? Blocking access to these networks inhibits professional development and absolutely can thwart productivity.
The business of business is to make money, but the means by which money is made has evolved. Sorry for the cliche, but the only thing that remains constant is change, and the nature of work has changed. Why this surprises people — and why they resist it — is something that eludes me. After all, you’d be hard-pressed to find an indentured servant in America these days, even though it was once a common business practice.
This item is cross-posted from my primary blog.