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Low productivity: Social networks or irresponsible employees?

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?
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

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.

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