Should employees be allowed to use social media at work?

Most employees use social media at work—it’s a fact. A huge percentage of employees have checked their social media in the last few hours. It’s not a fad. Employee social media use is rampant and it’s here to stay.

But should employees be allowed to use social media while they’re at work? And does it prevent them from doing their job well?

Should employees be allowed to use social media at work? Employees should be ethically allowed to use social media at work, but company policy should discourage its use. Social media use adds very few positives to a work environment. However, policing social media use is next to impossible—rendering it senseless to disallow its use.

Social media isn’t evil or iniquitous, but it is distracting and it contributes to decreased work production. Allowing social media use as cultural policy probably isn’t the right move. Employees will take advantage and continue to minimize work-related focus.

Should social media be allowed or banned in the workplace?

I’m sure many employers would love to ban it. I’m sure many employers also struggle with social media themselves. The cynicism would be REAL!

Not to mention the majority of the world engages in social media and it’s next to impossible to police it during work hours.

I don’t think social media should be banned in the work place because it will require considerable resources to enforce it. Employers will be required to hire someone full-time to monitor the posting times and frequencies of employees.

And once a few employees are fired over social media usage, the eery feeling of big-brother watching will contaminate the culture. People will leave because the water-cooler was poisoned by management. We all accept some level of micromanagement, but that might be taking things too far.

On the other hand, companies should create social media policies. This will gently nudge employees to make better time management decisions. Most of the time, the fear of being fired over something as petty as social media usage is enough to steer the ship in the right direction.

If you are debating on a hard-line policy, I’d suggest against it. The truth is all or most of your employees are on social media. There are big issues with trying to police it while maintaining a positive culture.

The biggest issue: Most people are consumers of social media content during work, but they aren’t contributors. They know better. So how does one monitor consumption? Are you going to look over people’s shoulder? Popup in their cubicle unannounced? Track their computer browsers? I don’t think so.

Just let it go. But encourage less usage with a quality policy.

What does a simple social media policy look like?

  1. Permissible accounts: Determine which social media platforms are work acceptable. Facebook is often a platform with fewer visits per day but longer visit durations whereas snapchat is often more frequent visits per day with much shorter duration. Consider each platform and their impact on focus and performance.
  2. Conduct: Employees are an extensions of your brand. You may want to construct language around acceptable social media behavior.
  3. Confidentiality: Inside information, trade secrets, and internal social information is imperative to business operations. Including language around informational protection is good practice.
  4. Brand Association: If your business is highly dependent on public relations, you may want to ensure employees aren’t speaking on behalf of your company without permission.
  5. Consumption: You may want to include information regarding the restriction of posting and content creation on non-work related social media posts. Employees shouldn’t be audience building for the “Gram” while they’re at work.

Downsides of using social media at work

There are loads of reasons why employees shouldn’t use social media at work. However, we feel the following three reasons truly highlight the detrimental impacts that social media can have on an office.

3 reasons employees shouldn’t use social media at work

  1. Productivity. If it isn’t already obvious, social media is a tool of boredom and distraction. Pictures, memes, videos, and banter create the massive abyss of procrastination we call social media. How many times have you found yourself scrolling through a social media page and realized an entire hour passed by? Two hours? Three hours? Yep, happens all the time. If you are on social media at work and not getting paid for it, you’re costing your company money.
  2. Culture disruption. When you create a culture where it’s acceptable to be on social media, the cumulative effect is massive. 69% of U.S. adults use at least one social media account. On top of that, 1 in 5 employees will use social media for 1 hour per day. Now imagine if 69% of your employees collectively use social media for an hour… Yah, your “cool” culture has now become an environment of zero-impact hedonism.
  3. Mood reduction. Researchers in 2018 found a significant correlation with lower moods and social media use. In other words, social media can alter our emotions negatively after use. Positive work requires positive focus which could be sabotaged with constant social media engagement. Not to mention, who wants a grumpy office mate?

As you can see, social media isn’t always a driving force for good. There are many instances where employee social media use is instead a driving force for procrastination, culture aggravation, and mood disturbances.

But the reality is employees are going to use social media anyway. Let’s talk about some of the positives.

Advantages of allowing social media use at work

Yes, there are actual advantages to allowing your employees to use social media. While they aren’t primary drivers of performance, there are subtle positives that can come from it.

Positive reasons to allow employees to use social media

  1. Connection. Companies are using social media as means to stay connected with people more than ever before. This includes the schools of your children, community organizations, and even family members. Being connected in times of emergency is a positive thing.
  2. Refocus. People who said, “We never needed social media in my day…,” never mention how much time they spent at the water-cooler yapping about Becky in HR. Social media can be a short reprieve from work-related stress and monotony. It can help to reset engagement. You can look at social media breaks like a healthier smoke break.
  3. Community. Employees who connect with each other will hold their current employment experience in higher value—and that includes connecting on social media. People often pursue new jobs when their workplace community erodes. Social media can help expand and deepen workplace community.

In fact, a recent poll by Gallup revealed a positive association between positive work-place friendships and performance.

Our research has repeatedly shown a concrete link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort employees expend in their job. For example, women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) compared with the women who say otherwise (29%).

Gallup 2018

While workplace social media use has gotten a bad rap, it’s not all bad. And it doses, social media can be really positive.

Can my employer use social media against me?

Yes. But there are some caveats.

First, most people who fired from their jobs because of social media posts will be fired using an “at-will” clause. Meaning, your employer can fire you anytime they want. It’s the rule—I didn’t make them.

However, at-will is double sided. You see, you can leave your employer anytime you want as well. See a better job? You can jump without so-much as a goodbye.

Now, if you are notified that you are being fired due to social media use, it’s most likely because you messed up. Personally, I keep my personal social media use to a minimum because things don’t disappear. I can’t call the internet and request my post to be deleted from cyberspace just because I had a few too many cocktails last June.

It just doesn’t work that way.

drunk on one GIF
Think before you post…

Top 3 reasons you’ll lose your job over social media

  • Threatening or harassing another employee.
  • Using social media during company hours when the company policy forbids it.
  • Conduct that is detrimental to the employee, company, or association between the employee and company.
  • Divulging important company information.
  • Dishonest and guilty admission which violates a work agreement (playing hooky, disability claim falsities, etc).

What is considered appropriate social media usage at work?

First and foremost, read the company policy on social media use. If they don’t have one, ask if there is a policy on personal communication. Many companies have not yet adopted a social media policy, but have an existing personal communication policy which will require some careful navigation.

I believe that you should refrain from using social media at work. The truth is…it’s hard to do a good job while be hijacked by social infinity scrolls. I’m just being honest here. And if you were honest, you’d feel the same way.

Now there will be people who gripe and say they are entitled and owed “me time”. Others will complain that smokers get smoke breaks and silicon valley companies get free granola snack bars. And that’s all true.

But so what. Do your job, be great at it, and if you hate it and feel the need to mindlessly bury your precious attention in the minefield of Facebook, get a new job. One that excites you and motivates you. One that encourages you and builds you up. Boredom is but a symptom of wasting your life.

Related Questions:

Can employers fire you for social media? Technically, yes. Employers can fire you anytime they want in just about every state in the United States. This “at-will” employee contract gives employers the power to terminate you, but it also gives you the power to quit.

However, most employers know better than terminate you over political ideas, opinions, or non-work related posts. In general, you won’t see people fired for reasons like whistleblowing or discrimination. This type of termination can land employers in hot water.

Can employers force you to use social media? Yes. If your job skillset requires the use of social media to effectively do your job (PR, social media management, company promotion, etc), then you may be required to have a social media account.

On the other hand, if a company is looking to terminate you because you won’t promote them through your own social media channel, you may have a case. This could violate FTC guidelines which require products testimonials to be factual opinions, honest beliefs, and real experiences.

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