Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

Summary: The popularity and use of social media sites is eating up employee time during and after work. Should we again 'blame the internet' or are we hiring irresponsible employees?


Let's face it, the workplace is full of distractions. On any given day, a coworker may come up to you while you are busy for a quick conversation. When that ends you get an unexpected phone call. After you take that phone call, you get asked to jump on another conference call you weren't planning for. Next you get asked to join an impromptu meeting in someone's office that wasn't on your calendar.

The workplace has long been the ultimate manufacturer of distraction with good intentions. Everyone wants to get things done as fast as possible with as much quality as they can. Some companies are starting to shutdown access to various social media sites saying that company productivity is taking a big hit since social media's adoption and popularity has grown.

Recently I read a post by Brad Friedman on Social Media Today that provides some actual numbers and dollar values associated with low productivity due to digital distractions. He references a survey done by harmon.ie where they commissioned 515 IT users working in the U.S. and various global companies. The goal of this survey was to better understand electronic distractions in the workplace. I'm not at all surprised by the numbers BUT I can't say that these numbers reflect a whole comprehensive truth as to why. For the same reasons that we can't blame violent video games for a child's misbehavior, or a specific genre of music for the lawlessness in the personal lives of its fans, we can't blame social media for a worker not managing their own time effectively.

According to Brad's post regarding the survey results:

"57% of work interruptions involve either the use of social tools like email, social networks, and text messaging, or switching windows among disparate standalone tools and applications, as well as personal online activities such as Facebook and Internet searches.  The remaining 43% of workplace distractions comes from activities like phone calls, talking with co-workers and ad hoc meetings."

"45% of employees surveyed reported they work only 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted and 53% waste at least one hour each day due to all types of distractions.  That hour per day translates into $10,375 of wasted productivity per person, per year, assuming an average salary of $30/hour.  Doing the math we learn for businesses with 1,000 employees, the cost of employee interruptions exceeds $10 million per year."

Reading these statistics it was clear to me that generally speaking, more time needs to be spent between managers and their employees (sans micromanagement of course) to define what productivity actually means and what it looks like.

Your employer is not a babysitting service

I've been working in the corporate world now for fifteen plus years. I'm definitely not the most organized person at work but I have a lot of responsibility and it's my duty to figure it out and take care of business. If I'm not sure how to manage or organize my time, I can always pick the brain of my more naturally organized friends, coworkers or hit up my manager for tips and tricks. Regardless of who I go to or what types of things I try, the bottom line is that it's still my issue. I need to manage my own time as a professional.

Working in social media all day, it can be difficult to concentrate on doing the work I do on Facebook business pages and on Twitter while ignoring the notifications that keep coming in from my friends and family. However, managing this is still my responsibility and I need to take it seriously if I want to stay employed. My employer should not have to come up with software solutions or new policies that block, manage, organize my time so that I can be productive. That is my job.

Many of us long-time creative/marketing types have complained and butted heads with techie IT admins about locking down certain websites or connectivity. IT has always been the ceiling of digital oppression in the workplace for those of us that like to traverse the world outside our firewalls. But while philosophically I disagree with putting network tools in place for the sake of 'increasing productivity' by locking out certain websites and domains, looking at the numbers in the study I mentioned above, it's apparent that almost half of employees who's job involves being online, getting email, etc. need some education and tips on time management at work. To that end, I can understand why IT would be encouraged to put something in place.

The issue however can and should be accomplished and dealt with using real people, regular discussion, and good management. The Orwellian approach to productivity is not the right path. Network security is important for many obvious reasons, but network solutions used solely to 'increase productivity' through digital imprisonment are wrong on every level.

If I can't have Facebook open (when I'm not doing work on it) or a Twitter client used for my personal account running while I'm working on something else because it's distracting, I need to close them. End of story. If I'm in a meeting and my iPhone is blowing up with social media notifications and distracting me, I need to turn it off (I still suck at this).

An employee's inability to manage their own digital distractions is no one's fault but their own.

[image source]

Topics: Networking, CXO, IT Employment, Social Enterprise

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  • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

    We have all the social networks blocked so there will be no accessing them at work. However our remote employees is a different story since they aren't on the corporate network they aren't going through our proxy server so they can facebook away. The odd part is they are facebooking in the middle of the day when they should be working.
    • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

      @LoverockDavidson - Thanks for the comments. A question I have is: Who's responsibility is it to monitor when people are working or not, IT or their managers?
      Rich Harris
      • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

        @Rich Harris
        I would say their managers since they are the ones responsible for meeting goals and productivity.
      • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

        @Rich Harris <br><br>The question is whether you want to treat employees as adults or children. As a small business owner, I don't put restrictions on social media and in fact, we use MSN IM as our business communication tool iin-house and for our remote employees.<br><br>However I do have expectations and social chat, whether it be real world or electronic is not expected to be done during business hours. Lunch and tea breaks on the other hand, can be used for social networking, watching TV or videos online, gaming or even participating in ZDnet forums. <br><br>My monitoring consists of looking at the quantity and quality of work produced and the occasional gentle rebuke if someone gets distracted, which doesn't happen often.<br><br>The most important source of productivity is job satisfaction and instituting a prison style system is not good for productivity.
      • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

        @Rich Harris Loverock Davidson likes to treat his employees like children.
      • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

        @Rich Harris
        I'd have to say the managers too, because they are the ones that have to report why 10k hours last year is so different from 10k hours ths year all of a succen or over a gradual change, either way.
        Assuming there sn't another manager/supervsor in between, most managers are well aware of who the deadwood, lazy and day-dreamers are in their groups. One thing I've always beleved in at work is there should never be any surprises between management and those who answer to him. Surprises point to poor management and/or a poor team; both beiing situatons that need attention.
        Where I worked for many years before I retired, I was one of few that would do my tme sheets showing the amount of mail, research or other 'net times. E-mails were collected and I'd read them at one time of the day, late in the afternoon. Likewise, phone messages, unless very urgent, were delivered to my desk during morning & afternoon breaks. It worked fairly well over 90% of the time. I carefully documented my time wasters & off-schedule efforts in each of my weekly reports to middlie management.
        Ymmv, but it worked pretty well for me.
    • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?


      The remote employees are probably only Facebooking because they're undoubtedly using some form of Linux.
      Hatestone Johnson
      • True...

        @Hatestone Johnson
        Once they have compiled the text green screen text client that is... :D
      • RE: ....Facebooking because they're undoubtedly using some form of Linux.

        @Hatestone Johnson

        That was a nice below the belt shot that made me chuckle.
  • Message has been deleted.

  • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

    For me, I don't care about social networking.
    Grayson Peddie
  • Driven to Digital Distraction...

    The few studies that have been done on how people read before and after going digital are revealing for the fact that it has encouraged more of us to scan vs. read. Skimming a digital page is one way to cut down on the time these distractions might otherwise pose. Just the same, I see no reason why a non-media industry ought to permit employee access to Facebook, Twitter or, worse, pornography. News stories after the financial crash in 2007 and after the oil spill last year revealed that some employees were not so much asleep at the regulatory switch as they were "distracted" by a whole lot more online than Facebook or Twitter. Then there was that tragic case where a train conductor in Chatsworth, CA spent so much time texting teenage train buffs that he blew through a stop and derailed --- and killed --- a whole lot of people. Mostly for that reason --- the literal danger that digital distractions pose --- I see no reason why a company can't have their IT department block non work-related content.

    Let's face it: This digital realm is still relatively new and relatively few find it easy to filter out all the distractions.

    The studies I?ve seen also show that most people who spend a lot of time in the virtual world demonstrate ADD-like symptoms associated with the way our brains tend to function "online". Clearly, we aren't at the stage in our digital evolution, as it were, to make the right call all of the time. Worse than just lowering on-the-job productivity, posts on social networking sites are increasingly cited in divorce cases and even pastoral counseling sessions. Entire books have been written about the downside of our digital obsession in recent years. Like the safety of cigarette smoking or the perceived harmlessness of being joined at the hip or the ear to a cell phone, it seems we are wired not to admit a downside to anything we LIKE until late in the game. When it comes to all things digital, we are like innocent kids in a candy store --- with all of the buzz and none of the (impending) crash in mind.

    Perhaps this is a societal phase and someday we will be wiser in just how much we permit this new social frontier to change just about EVERY aspect of our lives. Then, again, we've so completely and unquestionably embraced all things digital that news reports now say you can't even find a job without Facebook or Twitter (with the job boards being largely a waste of time, and HR people admitting that it is "creepy" when a "total stranger" attempts to visit a place of business in person to deliver a --- Gasp! --- paper resume). I know it has been said before, mostly by cranky old folks, but really WHAT are we doing to ourselves? Are we networking at all --- or hiding?
  • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

    It isn't just Social Networks, it is pretty much Smart phones in general! This all started with Crackberry Messenger and carried on to this day... Texting, IM, Tweeting, Facebook, web surfing and even Netflix saps the productivity out of our employees!
  • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

    Rich, thanks for reading my post on "Social Media Today." Personally, I'm fascinated by the "distraction" topic. Like you, I believe employees should be treated like adults, not children.

    To do this, I recommend to my clients that they work with me to create a Social Media Policy that is implemented and placed in the Employee Handbook. The policy spells out what can and can't be done during work and outside of work. These policies can be very helpful (especially if you have to fire someone).

    After that, I have a habit of telling employees that as long as they are getting their work done on time and at the highest level of quality, I don't care when they do it. This is generally my response to "Is it okay for me to schedule a doctor's appointment tomorrow at 2:00?" Generally this approach results in some mutual respect and everyone lives happily ever after.

    Regardless of what we think today, as more and more of today's "youth" enter the job force, this is going to be more and more of an issue for employers. That's why I suggest putting some policies in place and review them with new employees at the orientation.

    Thanks again Rich.
  • Parasite

    These social sites have no place in the workplace (they did not exist when the economy was growing and doing just fine in the 50's 60's, 70's or 80's. You cannot convince me that they are a tool for productivity today. They are a parasite on industry and stand in the way or real people doing real work for a real economy. They create little real value. Keep them for the evenings on your own time.
    • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?


      "You cannot convince me that they are a tool for productivity today."

      Agreed. IMO they are entertainment, not productivity. It's the grapevine / rumor mill on steroids, essentially.
      • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?


        I totally agree! I don't see the point in putting my life story on the internet for the world to see. I have my close/good friends and the few friends I have been lucky to get back in touch with from Facebook..I only used FB to get in touch with a few old friends again and thats it, no family photos,etc.. That I do through private e-mail.
      • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?


        As far as productivity at work...NO USEFULLNESS in the industry in which I am employeed...I have blocked all social websites.
        Then there are those that sit at their desks typing away on FB,etc.. using their iphones,blackberries,etc..
  • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

    <a href="http://www.v4w.blogspot.com/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.v4w.blogspot.com/</a>
  • RE: Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

    "Social networks or irresponsible employees?"

    Employees on social networks [i]are[/i] generally irresponsible employees.

    Well, with some possible exceptions. Bloggers and news media I imagine use social media as a part of their job.

    And there are some jobs where you can actually finish the job early and have nothing to do. It's a slow day and there's few, if any, customers coming in. There's actually quite a few job types that fall into the category of "you're there in case something goes wrong, but mostly things run fine." You can often try to keep busy with administrative work and preventative maintenance, but sooner or later you just get into periods where there's really nothing to do.

    And in those cases I imagine a lot of people get drawn into entertainment (and let's face it - social media [b]is[/b] entertainment).

    Unfortunately, if they get drawn into entertainment too long, when something [i]does[/i] go wrong and they need to do their jobs, they end up neglecting their duties.

    It's a tough thing to handle. On one hand, you want a good way to deal with boredom when the job is slow, but on the other hand, you don't want to compromise your ability to work when the pace picks up.