What Effect Does Social Media Have on Work Productivity?


What Effect Does Social Media Have on Work Productivity?

As the internet is now the most important mode of communication throughout the world, influencing not only everyday lives, but also global politics; surely therefore, it is about time to change the opinion of the way in which it is used?

From accessing social media in the workplace, to accessing it at all, there is a mild furore about how and when individuals are allowed to use it.

In July 2012 the United Nations Human Rights Council even passed a motion that deemed internet access to be a basic human right; one that should be guaranteed and protected by the states included.

Only perhaps fifteen years or so before this however, the internet was regarded as a luxury afforded to only a select few; highlighting just how great of an influence the digital world has become.

What was once only a rumour to some, is now a human right for anyone living within the 47 countries included in the UN.

US ambassador, Eileen Donahoe commented:

“It’s the first ever UN resolution affirming that human rights in the digital realm must be protected and promoted to the same extent and with the same commitment as human rights in the physical world.”

Not everyone in the media was impressed however, as the issue raises delicate questions in regards to convicted sex offenders and their individual state imposed restrictions from the internet, as one court case discovered.

With that in mind, what effect does this ruling have on social media and the workplace?


Ever since the advent of social media, clicking through Facebook and Twitter (and even MySpace), has been regarded as a taboo in the workplace; especially so in the UK.

Though the General Assembly did not regard social media as a human right (wait), it does bring into question which forms of digital media people should be allowed to access by rights.

Of course, it would be plainly obscene for workers to cry that browsing during work time offends their human rights, but how does social media disrupt the daily workflow of an office?

According to a survey by US staffing agency, Intelligent Office, it found that up to one-third of workers use social media at work for at least one hour per day.

To add to this, one quarter of participants stated that they would not work for a company that would not allow them access to social media in the workplace.

For those found in the hardened 25 per cent, this must be a shame as HootSuite recently revealed that just under a quarter of employees are still not allowed to access the internet during working hours; providing a path of tip-toeing for roughly one in four of those currently looking for work.

HootSuite wrote on its blog:

“People tweeted us saying they could not use social media at all. Others described specific situations in which they were allowed such as ‘only for recruiting purposes’ or only on corporate accounts.

“Many also described how social networks were blocked on their company’s internet. Interestingly, many businesses seem to be picking and choosing amongst social networks, cutting off access to perceived productivity killers.”

But is the use of social media during working hours that much of a problem?

Disregarding anyone found working in manual labour (this has to be strictly office based), some do actually argue that social media actually increases productivity in the workplace.

Microsoft itself surveyed the issue and found that surprisingly, social media usage did actually improve staff productivity during working hours.

Nancy Baym wrote on the Microsoft Research Social Media Collective Blog:

“First of all, we’re starting to understand the very premise – that social media usage inhibits productivity – is a myth.

“It’s not just that the premise is wrong – we’re also learning that blocking and banning policies are ineffective, giving traditionalist supervisors a false sense of control that, in reality, has been slipping away for years.”

The study entitled, “Exploring social network interactions in enterprise systems: the role of virtual co-presence” discovered that  productivity across a range of fields was greatly improved, especially so in media, publishing, travel and hospitality where productivity was increased by up to 52 per cent. This was found to be in line with a similar two-year study.

Interestingly, the study also showed which countries showed the most improvement after staff were allowed to access social media.

Perhaps with a sense of sweet bitterness, the study found that workers in China were the most productive, after increasing their output by a massive 84 per cent. Staff in the United Kingdom also increased their productivity by 36 per cent, just ahead of the United States with 34 per cent.

But what change is likely to come?

The likelihood is that until more studies, or ones that are better reported come to fruition, that access to social media during working hours is not something that will be widespread throughout the UK.

If you do think that there is at least a chance that your boss, MD or manager may be persuaded, then sending the Microsoft survey their way, probably won’t do any harm.

On the other hand however, people are still being disciplined and even sacked due to their usage of social media during office hours; whether raising the issue is a risk worth taking, depends totally on the culture and structure of the office in question.


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