Is social media helping or hindering your staff? 5 tips for employers


Two and a half billion people globally use social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Here’s what employers should look out for, and five ways to encourage your staff to use social media responsibly and productively.

According to a report by Vitality Group, people spend about two hours a day on social media – sometimes during the work day. While you may worry about the number of productive hours your employees spend on social media, studies show there are both pros and cons. Here's a breakdown:

The pros – a source of motivation and a tool for collaboration

Regular bouts of inspiration are valuable in keeping people engaged with each other and in work. Accessing feel-good content on social media can serve as a source of positive influence, or a mental break for busy or anxious people.

Sometimes a helpful market insight from a thought leader on LinkedIn, a thought-provoking idea or creative design on Pintrest, a health tip or relatable experience on Facebook, a photo of a dear friend on Instagram, or even a funny cat video one can show a pet-obsessed colleague can provide the small psychological boost needed to keep an employee optimistic, good-natured and refreshed at work.

Social media can also be a powerful communication tool for employees, enabling them to collaborate and solve problems more quickly, according to Lorenzo Bizzi, Associate Professor at California State University, Fullerton. Writing in the Harvard Business Review online, he noted, "In my research with 277 employees of a healthcare organisation I found concerns around productivity to be misguided."

"In the first part of my study, I surveyed the employees about why and how they used platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Respondents were then asked about their work behaviours, including whether they felt motivated in their jobs and showed initiative at work. I found that employees who engage in online social interactions with co-workers through social media blogs tend to be more motivated and come up with innovative ideas," he says.

The cons - disengaged, negative employees who are likelier to leave

In the very same study, however, Prof. Bizzi found that when employees interact with people outside the organisation (and not fellow co-workers) , they are "less motivated and show less initiative."

Extensive use can also affect employee retention, as Bizzi writes that employees who use social media are more likely to leave an organisation: "This may be because they were more likely to engage with potential new employers than their less social peers."

He continues: "In my study, 76% of employees using social media for work took an interest in other organisations they found on social media, compared to 60% of employees using social media only for leisure. When I examined how respondents expressed openness to new careers and employers, I found that they engaged in some key activities, including researching new organisations and making new work connections."

Research also shows that excessive work-time consumption of social media triggers negative emotions in people, such as envy, anxiety and loneliness.

5 ways to help make social media use healthy, productive and safe

As an employer, you bear responsibility in helping to guide the consumption of social media in the workplace. Here are some ways you can help ensure experiences are more positive and productive than otherwise:

  1. Think twice about blocking all forms of social media entirely, as this can be demotivating for employees. However, consider which channels you deem relatively beneficial, and consider putting measures in place, like 10 to 25-minute time-out sessions, or having accessibility limited to lunch hours and afterhours.
  2. If you haven't yet, draw up and communicate a clear social media policy that aligns with your organisation's code of conduct. Ensure all staff agree to it and sign it. Remind them how to use networks legally within the work environment and warn them of clickbait and cybercrime, which can put the company’s network, devices and reputation at risk.
  3. Share guidelines on the healthy consumption of social media, as well as regular reminders that excessive screen time can cause eye-strain, fatigue and can affect one's health and mood.
  4. To encourage collaboration and comradery, create internal social media groups, such as WhatsApp group chats for small teams. This can help employees feel included, facilitate communication, and give you a platform to channel relevant and beneficial messaging.
  5. To retain your staff and keep them from being lured by other employers, actively identify and reward your employees so they don't even consider leaving.

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