Dealing With Social Play On Company Time


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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation states that most workers spend about an hour during their scheduled work time on social media. The number is even higher for millennials at 1.8 hours. While that might at first glance be a cause for concern for most employers, other studies have shown that building in some down time, even social play time, can actually increase productivity. A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that 78% of millennials believe having the ability to use technology allows them to do their jobs better.

Chuck Gumbert, Founder & CEO of The Tomcat Group, has run several manufacturing businesses over the past 30 years. “I’ve seen first-hand how technology can be both a benefit and distraction in the workplace.”

Developing Policies
Today, Gumbert works with small and mid-sized business to help them improve and/or accelerate their performance. There are a number of things he implements that he finds beneficial in regards to social play time.

  • “For all meetings, I place a basket on the conference room table and have everyone, including myself, turn off their phone and place it in the basket until the meeting is over.
  • “Eliminate all personal cell phones in the workplace. If an employee needs a cell phone to do his/her job, then I’d issue them a company cell phone for that use.
  • “The biggest aspect of reducing the use is to develop a culture of what is and what is not acceptable conduct or usage in the workplace.”

Gumbert works with a lot of manufacturing facilities and points out that cell phones can present a safety hazard on the shop floor. “Texting, talking or visiting social media while running a piece of equipment can be dangerous for the operator and those around them.” Gumbert’s advice is to eliminate personal cell phones through a variety of means, including policies, company culture, and IT and HR tracking.

Social Play Concerns Can Vary
On the other hand, the use of social outlets at work can sometimes be beneficial. Pierre Khawand, author of The Perfect 15 Minute Day, has been working in the field of productivity and leadership and created the Focus, Collaborative, and Play concept called Results Curve. He believes whether or not employees being on their cell phones impacts productivity can depend on the situation. “Overall if the phones are overly used and abused, of course the impact on productivity can be very negative both from a time perspective but also from a focus perspective. However, there is also a positive aspect of the use of mobile devices for social purposes during work hours, which is enabling the employee to get a bit energized between tasks and be ready to be productive again. The question is “how much” is energizing and when does it start to become a waste of company time? Education and conversation about these issues can help tremendously, and keeping the employee focus on results and quality of work is the key.”

Khawand’s Company, People-OnTheGo, conducted a survey on social media play. About 42.6% of survey respondents indicated that they interrupt their work and check various inboxes (email and social media) more often throughout the day than they’d like. Part of the Results Curve created by Khawand shows that interruptions are one of the most serious detriments to productivity.

The survey showed that 27.4% spend up to an hour on social media during work hours every day. That doesn’t include time spent checking email. 39.1% stated that the time spent in social play was more personal than work oriented and 21.4% stated that their time on social media was entirely for personal reasons. A mere 6.8% stated their time in social play was all work related.

Clearly, time spent on social play can be a real problem. Khawand suggests implementing some of the following policies:

  • “Bosses (and companies) need to have social media and e-mail policies and best practices. Even small companies can easily find some templates on the web and customize them. It is important to set the employees’ expectations and be clear on what is acceptable use of mobile devices, social media, email. Without such clarity, employees are left in the dark and would be difficult to create a culture of accountability.
  • “The above needs to be accompanied by some ongoing conversations where the employees contribute their views and help shape some best practices.
  • “Bosses need to model the desired behaviors.”

For service-based companies, who have workers out in the field for much of the day, Khawand recommends using mobile apps that can help manage the daily tasks of field employees. There are a variety of these that allow management to see photos of tasks as they are completed, and stay updated on the progress of a given task. While you aren’t likely to stop every instance of social play with these apps, more accountability will reduce the amount of time spent playing versus working.

Don’t Get too Crazy with the Rules
Khawand also states, “Whatever policies or best practices are deployed related to the use of mobile devices and social media/e-mail/etc., they need to be reasonable, agreeable to the employees, and allow some flexibility so that the employee doesn’t feel too controlled.”

Karen A. Young, author of Stop Knocking on My Door – Drama Free HR to Help Grow Your Business and a frequent contributor to the Central Penn Business Journal founded and runs HR Resolutions 11 years ago. She is an authority on human resources management for small businesses.

She advises: “Have some flexibility – every time we give our employees just a tad bit of a break, it relieves stress and increases productivity, but set the parameters in advance.”

In any company, a certain percentage of the employees will break the rules, not get their tasks completed and generally push the boundaries on the parameters you’ve set. Young makes a good point about not punishing everyone for what a few people do.

“Address the abusers – don’t worry about those that occasionally hop onto Facebook; worry about the ones that spend time streaming, video gaming and (in other words) wasting your time and their coworkers’ time. Have courageous conversations with those folks. Remind them that it’s akin to ‘theft’ – they are stealing time from you, their customers and their coworkers.”

Smart Social Media Strategies
Companies can actually utilize social media to their strategic advantage. Train employees when to use social media, what is appropriate to post and empower customers by interacting with them. You can even use social media to engage your employees and offer mini training sessions. There are a lot of ways that social media can be a positive force for your company.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of ways that social media can be abused and harm your company and reduce productivity. Having some basic rules in place is vital. “Have solid technology monitoring policies in place – even if you don’t plan to monitor, reserve and maintain your right to do so!”

Take the time to really study what is going on in your company. Come up with a plan for social play that is fair for both the workers and your company. Make sure everyone is well informed of your plan and the parameters you want to implement. With just a little focus on this issue, everyone should be happier and more productive. The best approach probably isn’t completely black and white, but allows some time for employees to unwind and reenergize without them spending countless hours playing instead of working.

Lori Soard

Posted In: Management, Technology

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