Entries from September 2009 ↓

Taxpayer group forces Portsmouth Council to block staff access

Most of the discussion about prohibited employee access to social media has been focused on companies. The kneejerk tendency to insist on these restrictions, though, isn’t limited to management, HR and IT. Even customers can get into the act.

In this case, the “customers” are the citizens of Portsmouth in the UK — or at least those citizens involved in The Taxpayers’ Alliance, which turned the screws on the Portsmouth City Council based on the belief that Council employees accessing Facebook was a “waste of public cash.”

According to a BBC News report, staff was spending 400 hours each month on Facebook, but the math reveals that this comes out to a whopping 5-6 minutes per month per employee. What’s more, the Council allowed staff to use Facebook during breaks and before or after work, and there’s no evidence that any staff members engaged in their social networking outside of those break times.

It also appears that the Council didn’t determine whether any of the time spent on Facebook was dedicated to interacting with Portsmouth citizens, monitoring relevant discussions, vetting possible new hires or engaging in any other activities that would serve the citizens of Portsmouth. Nor, it appears, was there any effort to determine how many hours the average employee spent working on behalf of Portsmouth’s residents, either in the office, at home or on the road.

Citizen taxpayer groups serve a purpose, of course, but given the results of a University of Melbourne study that proves employees with access to social networks are more, not less, productive, the blowhards with The Taxpayers’ Alliance may well have shot themselves in the foot. Rather than energized staff ready to work on their behalf, their misguided actions could well have led many employees to be less motivated. The Melbourne study argues that employees who can take a brief break between tasks and check in on their networks are more energized than those who simply trudge from one task to the next.

The Portsmouth ban will also include Twitter, Bebo and other social sites.

Mark Wallace, speaking for The Taxpayers’ Alliance, is quoted in the BBC article saying, “It is sad that it has reached a point where councils need to ban staff from Facebook. But people are employed to work hard for the taxpayer and this is clearly a waste of public money.”

But with no evidence that the taxpayers are not being well-served by Portsmouth employees, and an average of 5-6 minutes per day on Facebook that could be happening at break time or before or after work, Mr. Wallace’s assertion sounds to me like a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. As usual, clearly communicated and consistently enforced policies — management by exception — is a better solution that an outright ban, one that ultimately can have more negative consequences than the non-existent problem the ban purports to fix.

Thanks to Neville Hobson for pointing out the article.