Banning Employees From Social Media

More than half of the companies surveyed recently by Robert Half Technology indicated that social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are “prohibited completely” at work. Only 19 percent of the responding CIO’s indicated that these sites were “permitted for business purposes only.”

I may be an outlier, but I find that just a bit odd – although, admittedly, not unexpected. Seems that for companies and their managers, it can be easier to manage employees by banning them from using or doing certain things, than by actually managing them. In other words, focusing on activities rather than outputs.

Personally, I’ve always taken the view that if employees successfully (or better than successfully) accomplish the work they have to do and meet productivity and service goals – and don’t create any legal risks for the company – I’m not too concerned about how they got there, or about how much time they may have spent along the way engaged in water cooler conversations, breakroom chats, on the phone with friends, Internet-surfing or engaged in the most recent technological diversion – social networking.

I’ve actually heard from friends and former colleagues at organizations that do ban these types of activities and have been shocked. To me, it would be like banning the use of the telephone, fax or email when those tools emerged on the scene (although I know that some employers *did*, for example, ban the use of email for some time – as well as access to the Internet). So, I suspect that, eventually the bans on social networking will lift and managers will focus, as they should, on managing production and output – the things that matter.

In fact, for certain types of positions – communication professionals, for instance – it seems that not having the ability to engage in social networking is a hindrance to the ability to effectively perform legitimate job duties. Despite this, I actually know some communication professionals who do not have access to these tools or who just recently attained such access.

I maintain that the rules of engagement in any type of communication – whether through an “old-fashioned” snail mail letter, a telephone call, an email message or a social network posting – can be managed through the same basic principles and policies that already exist in most companies indicating the authority employees have to speak/act on behalf of the company, sharing of proprietary information, etc.

It’s not the tools that create the problems – it’s people’s use of those tools. Social networking is different only from the standpoint that its reach is further. The principles remain the same, however. Spending time on the telephone engaged in personal conversations that keep one from getting work done efficiently or effectively – or from meeting the needs of internal or external customers – is a problem. Using the telephone for legitimate business purposes is not. The same is true, I believe, of using the Internet and the new social networking tools it has made available.


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