Are your staff on facebook all day? Should Facebook be banned in workplaces?

Are your staff on facebook all day? Should Facebook be banned in workplaces?

It is widely believed that Facebook could be responsible for a loss of $5 billion to businesses, as productive work hours turn into time spent updating profiles and connecting with friends and colleagues across the globe. In many companies across Australia and New Zealand, Facebook is fast being added to the list of sites on the `banned’ list, joining MSN Messenger, MySpace, YouTube and Second Life, which are also considered addictive, distracting and a drain on productivity.

Can limiting access prove to be a productivity drain in itself?

According to a survey undertaken by Leadership Management Australia, “enjoying a good relationship with other staff” is one of the top 5 factors that will positively influence an employee. And today, many of these relationships start with email interactions. We are now used to saying `it’s great to finally meet you in person’ because in many cases our daily virtual interactions outnumber our personal interactions. Facebook is just another way to connect with people, putting a face to a name immediately, and is being used by many organisations positively – providing social connectivity amongst those who don’t have time to interact personally every day.

For the generation of employees who are growing up connected to the internet, restricting access at work can be a job deal breaker. Anne Kirah, Microsoft Senior Design Anthropologist who spoke at last year’s TechEd conference in Sydney said during her opening keynote, “Jobseekers will think twice about employers who lock down work internet access.”

“These kids are saying: forget it! I don’t want to work with you. I don’t want to work at a place where I can’t be freely online during the day.”

“People that I meet are saying this to me every day, all over the world.”

“Companies all over the world are saying, oh, you can’t be on the internet while you’re at work. You can’t be on instant messaging at work…” she said. “These are digital immigrant ideas.”

Kirah defines ‘digital immigrants’ as people who were not born into the digital lifestyle and view it as a distraction rather than an integral part of life. The younger generation of workers have been using computers and mobile phones since birth and she calls them ‘digital natives’.

Could limiting access to these lines of communication antagonize employees resulting in poor morale and even staff turnover?

Bill Gates said years ago that if you worry about internet productivity, you’re worrying about people stealing pens from your stationery cupboard… there are bigger things to worry about.”

But of course, there are serious threats when it comes to allowing access to sites like Facebook in the work place. In any popular platform there are always going to be loopholes for the unscrupulous to exploit; hacking is a threat that remains constant and employers need to make informed choices on whether the benefits outweigh the risks. If access is enabled, can it be harnessed productively?

Free internet access can be abused, but if an employee is actively disengaged in an organisation this is likely to be the outlet, not the cause. The Gallup Organisation defines the term ‘Actively Disengaged’ as employees who aren’t just unhappy at work, but those that are also busy acting out their unhappiness by undermining their engaged co-workers accomplishments.

The question remains should employers block facebook and risk losing or not attracting the best potential Gen Y and Z candidates in the future