At least 10 of my colleagues have alerted me to a study released yesterday by Robert Half Technology, in which 54% of the sample of 1,400 CIOs of companies with 100 or more employees block employees from accessing any social media at work.
Mashable points out the Robert Half study is consistent with other reports. The trend is gaining momentum.
I even received an email today from a communicator who observed that she received a security notice that access to Stop Blocking was blocked at her organization. Right. God forbid anybody should be able to explore the arguments against this inane and counterproductive practice.
Given the publicity the Half study is getting, it’s worth reiterating the key arguments against blocking.
Well-communicated and consistently enforced policies will deal with most issues. The number of companies blocking access to social media sites is roughly on par with the number of companies without social media policies. Isn’t it possible that employees who knew what the rules were might actually follow them? Especially if they knew there were real and serious consequences for failing to do so?
Access to social media improves productivity. According to Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, “Using social networking sites may divert employees’ attention away from more pressing priorities, so it’s understandable that some companies limit access.” But multiple studies prove exactly the opposite.
Productivity concerns are based on fatally flawed assumptions. First, there is research to suggest that every hour an employee spends at work on non-work-related websites is compensated for by an hour spent away from work on work-related activities. Do you check your work-related email on your mobile phone before you even get out of bed? Most knowledge workers say they do. Second, there are work-related benefits to social media activities, including collaboration, mindsharing and professional social networking amongst employees, affiliates and partners, according to David Lavenda of WorkLight (drawing on results from a Gartner study).
Employees don’t need your network. I can access any social network I like on my iPhone and my Palm Pre. I have a laptop with built-in access to the Sprint network that gets me on any site I want. Employees can (and do) bring these tools to the workplace. Your blocks have no impact. Employees can still get to Facebook all they want.
Who died and put CIOs in charge of worker productivity anyway? I’m not sure when supervisors and HR abdicated this responsibility to IT, but IT is simply not qualified to address employee productivity.
Blocking kills engagement. There are plenty of studies that tie high levels of worker engagement to increased growth and profitability. Trust is a pillar of engagement. So what happens to engagement when all employees get the same message, “We don’t trust any of you, not a single damn one of you, as far as we can throw you, so we’re blocking all of you”? Bye bye, engagement.
Access to social media is not an automatic invitation to viruses and malware. Those companies that do permit employee access have found ways to protect their networks. For many of the companies blocking access based on the fear of infection, it’s just easier to block than to find ways to protect the network while providing access. Laziness is not an excuse for blocking.
Millenials will not work for companies that block. These workers — the ones you need to hire to replace the retiring boomers — are networked 24/7 and expect the company to accommodate them. Many simply won’t work for companies that block access, which means you’re left to hire your second and third choices. Is mediocrity actually a hiring goal in your organization?
Bandwidth is a bogus issue. Bandwidth is the paper of the digital era. Can you imagine a company 25 years ago telling workers, “We’d love to get memos and publications to you, but we don’t have enough paper”? The very notion is absurd. They’d buy more paper. Companies pinching pennies on bandwidth are doing themselves a disservice in many more ways than one.
Please suport the Stop Blocking initiative. Contribute research you’re aware of to the wiki. Share how your access to social networks and other web content has benefitted you at work. Share how blocking has restricted your ability to be as effective as possible at work. Link to Stop Blocking; feel fee to use the Stop Blocking badges on your blog or site. We must get the word out that blocking is a counterproductive, knee-jerk practice that must be stopped for the sake of the very companies that are implementing it.