Technology fix. What employers can do when social media becomes an addiction

Technology fix. What to do when social media become an addiction

Recent research shows that technology has helped us to become nearly five times more productive than we were in the 1970s. As well as enabling social interaction and personal expression, social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter can be valuable business aids for innovation and collaboration. However, with over half of people under 25 admitting they have to check Facebook at least once a day, it’s clear that for many, social media has become more than a form of virtual engagement. This can create something of an issue in the workplace, leaving employers with the dilemma of balancing the positive aspects of online communications while discouraging time wasting.

The statistics show there is a worrying trend towards individuals who use social media developing a fixation if not an addiction:

  • 28 per cent of smartphone users update Twitter before they get out of bed.
  • 61 per cent  of people under 25 have to check Facebook at least once a day.
  • 11 per cent of over 25 year olds are unable to go for more than a couple of hours without checking in on Facebook.

What has become apparent is that there are users who have become addicted to social media. The University of Bergen in Norway has carried out research and established the ‘Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale’. It identifies a way to measure potential Facebook addiction.

The Researchers concluded that Facebook addiction in particular is more likely to affect women, younger people and those who are socially insecure and less ambitious. In addition, there are generic signs which can help to determine whether there is an issue that needs to be addressed within the workplace. The signs to consider are:

  • Does the person spend at least four hours per day using social media? Some employees may log on to their devices throughout the day for just a few minutes at a time but this can easily add up to a significant amount of time of not doing any work;
  • Do they take their phones or other Internet devices with them into meetings or even when they go to the toilet?
  • Does the person feel an urge to increasingly use sites such as Facebook and to post information regularly?
  • Do they check websites as soon as they have woken up or just before going to bed?
  • Do they increasingly cancel activities with family, friends or colleagues? and
  • Do they feel restless or anxious when it is not possible to get onto the Internet?

While there can be positive benefits to using social media at work there are many employers who believe it can lead to decreased productivity when employees spend too much time thinking about or accessing social media.

If you do have an employee who is accessing their smartphone frequently and it is causing concern, what can or should you do? It’s important first of all to ensure you have a clear policy in place before you take any action. The policy should set out the standards of conduct required and encourage staff to seek help if they feel they may have become addicted to social media.

Some employers have become so concerned about the potential harm smartphones at work can cause, their policy requires staff not to take their phones into the office, or to hand them into a central safe point. While this may appear to be an extreme step to address their concerns, it does evidence the level of concern some employers have about the use of smartphones in the workplace.

Ultimately if an employee is frequently using Facebook in breach of the company’s policy, then disciplinary action should be considered. However employers need to bear in mind that they may have a Facebook addict in need of counselling to contend with.


Loch Associates online-PamFounder of Loch Associates, Pam Loch is a dual qualified lawyer acting for employers and employees and advising on all aspects of employment law. She is Managing Partner of niche employment law practice, Loch Associates Employment Lawyers and Managing Director of HR Advise Me Limited.