Two fifths of workers ignore social media bans – and they’re right

We all remember the days, not that long ago, when companies actively discouraged the use of personal technology and social media at work. How quickly things change. Now many firms not only want people to use their own smartphones, they pretend that it was their idea all along by labelling it BYOD. Some even measure their employees’ social engagement and judge them on it. Even those firms who maintain policies to restrict the use of social media may be fighting a losing battle according to new research from Samsung Electronics, which found that British employees are most likely to ignore them. But then again, maybe businesses shouldn’t worry about it because a growing body of research suggests that people who use social media tend to be more collaborative and productive at work.

The Samsung report claims that around 40 percent of 4,000 office based employees in Europe are still restricted to some extent from using Facebook and other social media during the day. In spite of this, two-fifths of British staff who are aware of such restrictions ignore them or use their own technology to access them as well.

Those who took part in the study said they felt that bosses did not trust them, with only half saying that their bosses gave them the freedom to use the technology they wish. Seventeen per cent said their employers assume they have little knowledge of technology and impose excessive restrictions. Perhaps unsurprisingly the research showed that the generation who grew up in the digital era – those aged between 18 and 34 – were the most likely to ignore bans and use their own devices in order to gain access to Facebook and more.

The figures suggest that there might even be an inverse relationship between bans and people defying them in some circumstances. For example, while businesses in the hospitality sector are most likely to maintain Facebook bans (57 percent), their employees are the second most likely to defy restrictions with over a third (38 percent) they just ignore company policies. The most rebellious bunch in this regard are workers in the property sector with nearly half (46 percent) defying their employer’s wishes.

Bans may even be counterproductive to some degree according to a number of studies into work patterns that embrace social media. For example, a study of workers in the UK, Germany and Finland published last year by Warwick Business School mapped the use of social media at work and compared the results with a number of performance metrics. Both found that certain key measures such as productivity and retention may be boosted by the use of networking apps.

In his research, Joe Nandhakumar of Warwick Business School found that employees who use social media and other digital forms of communication were generally more productive,  creative and collaborative at work. “For example,” Professor Nandhakumar says, “when they need to provide certain solutions to customers’ specific needs, design engineers from different locations use the social media capabilities integrated into their ES (enterprise systems), to interact and discuss ways of effectively configuring products. This cuts out a lot of the time-consuming processes involved in meeting those needs. “The users felt that they are moving from being transaction and process-focused to being more interaction-oriented and people-centred.”

Social media may be something of a two-edged sword in the workplace but the benefits outweigh any drawbacks according to the McKinsey Global Institute. In its recent report The Social Economy, it claimed that organisations could boost productivity by up to 25 percent with the intelligent integration of social media and other technologies. The report claims that the  average “interaction worker” spends as much as 28 percent of their time at work dealing with e-mails and almost 20 percent processing internal information and consulting colleagues. But social media allows information to become searchable content, cutting the time spent on such tasks by around an third.