Small business owners wrestling with the question of whether or not to allow employees access to social media in the workplace are affected just as much in Australia as anywhere in the world. Recent Nielsen research indicates that Australians are among the world’s heaviest users of social networking.
AGAINST: Loss of productivity, legal problems and security threats
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning and focused effort.”
- Paul J. Meyer
The most obvious argument for banning social media in the workplace is loss of productivity. Research has shown that businesses allowing employees to access social media lose an average of 1.5 per cent in total employee productivity – a figure that could be much higher in individual cases.
Small businesses working within tight margins and facing low profitability can’t afford distractions that drain productivity. It could mean the difference between flourishing, merely surviving, or, in a worst-case scenario, actually going under.
Loss of productivity aside, social media in the workplace can create potential legal problems for employers. If an employee makes derogatory remarks about the business or fellow employees on Facebook or Twitter, a resulting dismissal of the employee could leave the business owner open to a claim in an Employment Tribunal.
One particular example of this occurred in Australia last year. After a truck driver was sacked for making sexually and racially discriminatory comments towards two colleagues on Facebook, his termination was overturned.
Another potential problem is if an employee inadvertently publishes confidential or sensitive data about the business or its clients on social networking sites. Apart from any potential legal claims, this could result in damage to the company’s reputation and consequently its profitability.
FOR: Boosted staff morale, enhanced business profile and free advertising
“We treat our people like royalty. If you honour and serve the people who work for you, they will honour and serve you.”
- Mary Kay Ash
Loss of productivity, potential legal problems and threats to security are all adequate reasons for banning social media in the workplace. However, there are also strong arguments for allowing it:
Employee morale is boosted by access to social media and this actually increases productivity. According to Brent Coker, Marketing Lecturer at the University of Melbourne, short and unobtrusive breaks such as a quick surf on the internet leads to higher concentration for the day and increased productivity.
Employees like to work for businesses seen as fair, generous and, especially in the case of younger employees, cool. Allowing access to social media can enhance the business profile. Banning social networking, however, can be seen as domineering, causing employee resentment and leading to potential staff and clients avoiding your business.
Social networking is the fastest means of communication in the world. As such, contented employees are communicating with consumers and possible customers/clients for your business when using Facebook and Twitter. By tapping into potential customers, employees using social media are essentially providing free advertising for your business.
While the majority of small businesses still ban social media in the workplace, many employers believeit’s a mistake to be too heavy-handed about personal internet use. Instead, he advises striking a balance by allowing it with safeguards.
Apart from implementing technological safeguards, small businesses can do other things to manage social media access. Aside from a written policy regarding social media use, you may also choose to have office meetings where employees are notified about the company’s expectations. At these meetings, employees can be given the chance to ask questions about policy, and even offer ideas on future policy amendment. This will likely foster staff compliance with policy.
Given the amount of time people now spend on social networking sites, it may be worth allowing access to it in the workplace as long as access is limited – and your business protected from potential legal problems. However, do some research before making a decision. Most importantly, find out exactly how much it will cost to install and maintain a safeguard that suits the nature and structure of your small business. That information may make the decision for you.
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
With six years of Advertising behind her and a commendable portfolio in tow, Helen decided to follow her passion for writing and set up as a Freelance Writer in 2012. Her writing shop, Copyfox, offers copy for predominantly digital channels - optimised website copy, website content and articles, eMail marketing activity and social media content and management. As well as a writer, Helen is also a Digital Producer, with a strong technical knowledge of online strategy, digital design and build.