How to Avoid Negative Impacts of Social Media At Work

How to Avoid Negative Impacts of Social Media At Work

CIO just published an article titled:

4 Ways Social Media Improves Work Productivity (and 3 Ways it Doesn’t)

which includes the following positive items:

  1. Find information faster
  2. Improved professional networks
  3. Stress relief
  4. Improved teamwork

I buy all of those. At their core is the key objective to use the available tools to improve work outcomes.

CIO also lists 3 ways that social media negative impacts productivity, these include:

  • Work interruptions
  • Choosing to engage in social media while at work
  • Reduced intellectual capacity

I find this second list a bit of a stretch. I certainly get the first one and plenty of research, including some I’ve personally conducted, indicates that work interruptions lower productivity. However, the entire second list is dependent on a conscious negation of the premise of the first list, namely, individuals are making a choice not to focus on work outcomes. We can’t blame social media for that. Social media is only the latest distraction. What about playing games on a smart phone and texting friends – or going out for a smoke, a stroll or a conversation in the stairwell (the problem with one dimensional research is it only asks questions along its hypothesis and ignores the rest of the world).

For organizations and individual managers who want to increase productivity, they must increase employ engagement. Item three in the first list is the light version of the second list: stress relief is OK, disengagement is not.

The most effective way to avoid reduced productivity is a combination of worker commitment and organizational engagement. If people are interested in what they do, they won’t make the choice to do something else. And for the individual, it all comes down to personal responsibility. If you are so bored with your job that you spend all day on Facebook, at least make the occasional foray onto LinkedIn and look for a job that is more interesting, because Facebook is probably not going to increase your net worth. If you don’t like your job, go find something else to do.

Finding something else to do, of course, that is easier said than done in today’s economy, which is another flaw in the research: it doesn’t take into account economic context or employee satisfaction.

People have always found distractions at work. Perhaps today they find it easier to be distracted because they lack mobility and the distractions are so accessible. Employers, however, as I write about in Management by Design, also have choices to make. Boring, repetitious, oppressive, negative and non-challenging work environments are first made, and then allowed to perpetuate. They are the personal choices of dozens or even hundreds of managers over long periods of time, and they need not persist. If you want the most out of your workers, respect them, engage them and create work experiences that are positive and progressive—the chain of permission that leads to negative work environments can be broken by a single courageous executive. If people are busy doing work that makes them think, social media will be just another tool to enhance the positive work experience, not a distraction that helps them escape a negative work experience.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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