Are workers wasting time on social media?

Employees on mobile devices ‘the new world of work’: Expert
By Marcel Vander Wier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/15/2017

Are employees spending too much time on Facebook and Twitter at the office? Not necessarily.

That’s the consensus of experts responding to research indicating the average Canadian worker “wastes” several hours of office time each week on non-work activities.

In fact, it’s high time organizations embraced social media as a tool to advance their respective workplaces, according to Lori Schmidt, CEO of GO Productivity in Edmonton.

“It is the new world of work,” she said. “Everyone is connected all of the time. Some of that is going to be a bit of a time-waster… but also a lot of it is people tweeting out what their business is doing.”

“It is a reality, so we need to look at how we engage it for good: ‘How is that helping us drive what we want to accomplish as an organization?’ as opposed to ‘How do we put a fence around it?’” said Schmidt.

Digital age

Canadian employees spend an average of 43 minutes per day (more than three-and-a-half hours each week) on their personal mobile devices at work — completing tasks such as checking personal email or surfing social media, according to a survey by OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company, of 400 office workers and 300 senior managers.

Millennial workers rack up 58 minutes per day on mobile devices, and an additional 52 minutes on non-work activities — the most of all age groups, according to the research.

Meanwhile, 27 per cent of companies block social media access, but 35 per cent of employees get around this by using their personal devices instead.

“Here’s the bottom line on all of this: We live in a very connected world,” said Dianne Hunnam-Jones, district president for Eastern Canada at Robert Half in Toronto. “You don’t see people without a cellphone in their hand. The dividing line between work and play is a little less defined for the younger workers. For the older generation, it’s very clear.”

“(Millennials) grew up using cellphones, and are therefore more tied to them,” she said. “And they will tell you they’re far better at multitasking than the older generations. They can be on a conference call and at the same time they’re updating their Facebook page or doing an Instagram post or checking out the latest deal from Shopify.”

“So even though they’re saying they’re using 52 minutes on personal tasks, they’re still doing some of their other work as well.”

Additionally, many office roles include the monitoring of social media, so it is difficult to draw lines between personal and professional usage, said Hunnam-Jones.

Establishing policy

Productivity in the workplace is a difficult issue to navigate, as employers want to ensure both fairness and morale are retained, said Christopher McClelland, an employment lawyer at Blaney in Toronto.

“Banning cellphones or the use of personal electronic devices in the workplace is probably impractical in most workplaces,” he said. “If anything, it’s going to be an employee satisfaction or retention issue, where if you have that strict of a policy, you might have trouble keeping your employees happy, because cellphones are so pervasive in people’s lives.”

An outright ban is a “more draconian response,” according to McClelland. “It really comes down to the employer developing a clear written policy and deciding how it wants to regulate the use of cellphones in the workplace.”

That policy should be a “living document,” changing as needs arise, he said. Game-playing could be banned, for example, or minimal usage could be encouraged.

“You can go as far as setting times when use is prohibited, for example, during a meeting or when interacting with customers in a retail environment.”

Prohibiting cellphone usage while driving or operating safety-sensitive machinery could also make sense in certain contexts, said McClelland.

But simply focusing on distracted employees may be the wrong position for employers to take, according to Schmidt.

“I think we’re focusing on the wrong thing,” she said. “Everyone’s connected all the time, so that happens, regardless.”

“What we really look at is: ‘How do we ensure that we’re investing appropriately in our people, that we’ve got them in the right place, with the right skills and armed with the right tools?’ And that leads to a higher level of engagement.”

Employers should focus on ensuring a good understanding of productivity and appropriate results that individuals should produce, said Hunnam-Jones.

“I think people should have access to everything,” she said. “Of course, there’s some inappropriate sites that companies naturally block out. But if we’re talking about Facebook and Twitter and personal email etcetera, should we restrict that? I say no.”

“It’s actually a good thing. If someone is working long and hard — to take a 15-minute break and get a laugh from looking at the latest post on YouTube — it’s not bad to actually have that break between intense work.”

Legal issues

Monitoring internet activity is allowable at the discretion of each organization, said Hunnam-Jones.

But employers should work with legal and HR departments to ensure proper policy is established. Some companies simply use disclaimers that pop up with policy reminders every time an employee goes online, she said.

“Always assume that somebody’s watching you,” said Hunnam-Jones. “Just because nobody’s looking over your shoulder doesn’t mean your online activity isn’t being tracked. Most companies do monitor their employees’ internet use. They can track to see where you’ve been.”

Monitoring employees’ work can be quite invasive — to the point of analyzing keystrokes or taking screenshots of workers’ computers at particular intervals, said McClelland.

“If an employer intends to engage in this type of active monitoring, it is important to have a policy clearly establishing that employees should not have an expectation of privacy when using their work computer, and the employer will use the information it collects for purposes related to performance and productivity.”

The organization should also be able to show that employees are aware of, and agree to, the policy, he said.

As for pure cellphone bans, safety and accommodation issues could arise specific to individual family status or workers employed remotely or late at night, said McClelland.

“There’s a presumption now that people can be reached on their cellphone… That has to be addressed when you’re thinking about whether you’re able to impose a ban on phones.”  

Advice for HR

Consider going all the way back to the corporate vision statement before implementing a web policy, said Schmidt. Examine potential efficiency measures alongside the need to innovate and add value for the future.

“It’s really ensuring that you’ve hired the right kind of people with the right skills and capabilities, or you’re training to that,” she said.

“By just cutting off social media — especially with millennials today who are so engaged… rather than policing that, let’s make some ground rules together as to what we see is acceptable.”

It may even be prudent to encourage “creative time,” an effort Schmidt engages in at her firm.

“Take an hour in the day and do some learning. But tell me how that’s bringing back some value.”

Ultimately, managers need to lead by example, said Hunnam-Jones.

“Regardless of policy, you can model the behaviour you expect in your office. If you don’t want people on their cellphones doing personal stuff all the time, don’t you be doing it.”

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