It is no secret that social media is accessible almost everywhere, and each day millions of people are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media platforms. While most only assumed that employees were also using social media while at work (even when their employers may have policies prohibiting such use at work), a recent study by the Pew Research Center has confirmed this assumption.
In June 2016, the Pew Research Center released the results of its survey “Social Media in the Workplace.” The survey was conducted by interviewing 2,003 American adults during Sept. 11-14 and 18-21, 2014. Overall, according to Pew, the survey demonstrates “that social media plays some role in the lives of many American workers – but that role is not always clear-cut or entirely positive.” So, let’s break it down a bit.
Most Workers Use Social Media at Work for a Mental Break
According to the survey, only 77% of workers reported using social media in the workplace regardless of whether their employers had policies restricting such use in the workplace. (I suspect the actual number is higher, particularly since the survey was done in 2014, and only 2,003 workers were surveyed). As Pew notes, “[s]ome of these activities are explicitly professional or job-related, while others are more personal in nature.” Specifically, the respondents reported that they used social media while on the job for the following reasons:
- 34% ever use social media while at work to take a mental break from their job
- 27% to connect with friends and family while at work
- 24% to make or support professional connections
- 20% to get information that helps them solve problems at work
- 17% to build or strengthen personal relationships with coworkers
- 17% to learn about someone they work with
- 12% to ask work-related questions of people outside their organization
- 12% to ask such questions of people inside their organization
One interesting note pointed out by Pew, is that when employees “learn about someone they work with,” 16% reported finding information on social media that has lowered their professional opinion of a colleague, and only 14% reported finding information that improved their professional opinion of a colleague. Perhaps this is another reason to be avoid becoming “Facebook friends” with co-workers.
Social Media use for “Employee Advocacy” for the Employer Is Not Yet Prevalent
Interestingly, those surveyed did not report a significant use of social media for employer promotion, marketing, or public relations. As Pew reported: “A relatively modest share of workers say they have incorporated specific social media platforms into their day-to-day work lives:
- 19% of workers say they ever use Facebook for work-related purposes.
- 14% ever use LinkedIn for work-related purposes.
- 3% ever use Twitter for work-related purposes.
- 9% use a social media tool provided by their employer for work-related purposes.
- 5% use social media platforms other than the ones listed above for work-related purposes.”
Employer Policies on Social Media Use
Prudent employers likely have policies on social media use at work. These policies range from across-the-board prohibition on use of social media at work, to free access/usage of social media at work (with some exclusions like sharing trade secrets/confidential information, harassing and discriminatory uses, and so forth). According to the Pew survey, the respondents reported that only 51% were subject to workplace policies regarding use of social media. Conversely, 45% said their employer did not have such policies. And 32% of the respondents stated that their employer had policies about “how employees may present themselves on the internet in general.”
1. Improve employee engagement
Generally, social media use at work is not a significant problem, according to the results of this survey. When the most reported reason for using social media at work is in order to “take a break” from doing work, the problem in the office is not likely too much social media use, but rather “the work” from which the employee needs a break. Perhaps more stimulating work, or assigning work to employees based on individual strengths/interests, and overall improvement of employee morale and appreciation will go a long way for the employer.
2. Have social media policies, however, be reasonable yet consistent
It is important to have workplace policies on social media, and they should be drafted to be compliant with the National Labor Relations Board guidance, and other applicable state and federal laws. Importantly, no policy will be a perfect match for every employer – one size does not fit all. These policies should be customized for each employer’s unique culture, customs, and workforce demographics. Employers should work with an employment attorney and/or an HR consultant to create a legally compliant and culturally fitting set of policies.
Employers would be wise, too, to be reasonable and consistent when enforcing such policies. To do so, employers need to appropriately train their managers and supervisors. It might go a long way if management ignores reprimanding employees who are in technical violation of the policy where those violations are of little consequence: for example, perhaps when one employee is violating the policy by looking on Facebook for photos of her son’s wedding. Conversely, management will need to consistently enforce the policies for more serious violations, for example when an employee posts on social media harassing comments about a co-worker.
Are you surprised that “only” 77% of employees reportedly use social media at work? Do companies still have a long way to go regarding employee engagement/advocacy via social media?
DISCLAIMER: Information provided on this website is not legal advice, and it does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor should you act on anything stated in this article without conferring with the Author or other legal counsel regarding your specific situation.
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