Tech Connect: Is blocking social media a good idea?

Mike McKay
Mike McKay

The proliferation of social media — tweeting, texting, Facebook and the like — has been breathtaking. When you have young people sending 60 text messages or more per day, it’s obvious that this media has become integral in their lives.

Do you think that is going to stop when they come to work? And how are you dealing with it?

I have been heavily involved in human-resource management during my career. I learned early on that in establishing policies, one has to be very careful.

Too general is useless and dangerous. Too specific requires extreme policing of your own policies and rules.

We are often asked by clients to give them tools to block employees from using websites and social media while at work. While such tools are available, are they really the answer to dealing with this issue?

Invariably, these tools are often requested before reasonable policies are even put in place.

Here are a few questions to consider in determining what you want to do:

  1.  Do you allow your employees to use social media while on the clock?
  2.  Do you have any policies in place regarding it?
  3.  Do you want employees to use social media in doing their jobs, such as texting customers?
  4.  Have you really thought all of this through and come to some concrete decisions on how to manage the opposing forces of private use versus job use?

My guess is that answers to the above include answers such as “no,” “kind of,” “haven’t worried about it” and various other answers that evade these tough questions.

If you have not already wrestled with these questions, let’s take a look at what others have tried.

We had a client who was so concerned that her employees would employ the company’s computers for personal use that she tried the old, heavy-handed techniques of threats and intimidation.

When these did not work — as they never do — she asked us for help in blocking websites. We did that, and then she very quickly came back and asked us to open up sites that her employees needed.

Then, she decided that employees only needed some of the sites some of the time.

The downside: She was never happy with any of these solutions and I’m sure that her employees found it either downright silly and/or insulting.

Other clients have just ignored the whole thing and hope that nothing happens. The problem with this approach is that hoping is not a policy.

So, why do you need a policy about using social media at work? First of all, you need to think about how social media, in all its breadth, is affecting your business.

Then you need to work out a policy that your employees can understand and respect. You need to find the middle ground where employees don’t resent your lack of understanding of an important aspect of their lives — connecting with others.

On the other hand, they have to respect the fact that losses in productivity have a very real impact on the success and sustainability of the business.

One of the best approaches to the development of policies, especially one for social media, is to involve the employees in constructing one, or in modifying what you might have. You will find them interested in doing so and you will get much more buy-in when it is complete.

If you yourself are less engaged as a social media user, a side benefit in involving employees in the development of a policy is that you might discover opportunities you had never imagined. If your employees don’t enlighten you, the research needed to write a good policy will reveal ideas, technologies and other information that you may not be aware of.

The “doing nothing” approach, on the other hand, can be extremely dangerous as your lawyer will tell you. There are many other issues to be considered, such as copyright, privacy, defamation, slander and so on.

There also is the area of non-flattering posts by disgruntled employees about you and your company. Some courts have found these to be protected speech.

Do you know how you would deal with something like this? Better think through a policy.

And don’t think that once you have a good policy in place that you just give it to everyone, put it in your employee manual and forget about it. Once you have a policy in place, it is up to management to make sure that everyone understands it, and that you use due diligence in implementing the policy.

Finally, don’t write off social media as a generational fad.

It is here.

Deal with it.


Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.