Talk about a hot topic among managers in many of today’s workplaces.  And here I use the term “social media” in its current contemporary sense to refer to formats like Facebook, Twitter, e-mailing, text messing etc.  The question is, should they be used for personal reasons while an employee is at work?

Let’s first consider that in some of today’s businesses, the use of social media — especially e-mail and text messaging — is a core component of daily business life especially for mobile business and sales men and women.  Let us also consider that in some organizations, especially in the national security arena, the devices required for personal social media interaction are strictly forbidden in classified environments.  But this leaves plenty of work environments where managers must make their own judgment calls regarding appropriate personal social interaction of all kinds..

This issue would be less challenging if we darn humans were not so inherently social creatures.  It has never required today’s technologically driven formats for employees to spend considerable time at work on the phone or in conversations with fellow workers discussing and sharing opinions on a vast variety of topics having nothing at all to do with their jobs.  Thus managers have always needed to use sound judgment regarding what is appropriate and when enough is enough.

When I have listened to managers argue about this topic, there invariably seems a divide between what I call the “Old School” and the “New School” view on this subject.  And lest you jump to conclusions, I find both genders and a variety of age groups in both schools.

Old School proponents, in pursuit of productivity and quality, tend to put a great deal of stock on the importance of attending to work only while an employee is “on the clock”.  They value highly what they can actually observe — the busier folks appear, the better — and many old schoolers are often suspicious of the work effort of those subordinates who are frequently out of their sight.  Thus the stereotypical old schooler would generally prefer the minimal amount of personal social interaction of any kind while someone is on the clock.  Work time, they believe, is work time, period.

Those I would call new school proponents, are somewhat less concerned about the notion of “on the clock hours”.  They are more attuned to productivity, output volume, creativity in approach, value added contributions, and the overall quality of a subordinate’s efforts.  They recognize that some employees will out perform others in all these areas and will do so in less time, and sometimes with less effort.  New schoolers thus tend to care more about employee output they can evaluate, than they do about their daily observations of employee activity.  If a subordinate’s output is above standard in quantity, quality, and value added contributions, new schoolers are less bothered by the social interaction that goes on within or out of their sight.

So who is right?  I’m not sure I can answer this question when put in terms of right and wrong.  Managers representing both schools of thought cannot escape having to make sound and rational judgments about how much personal social interaction of any kind is appropriate for their particular work environment and employee job requirements.  Over strictness or excessive leniency strikes me as a bad management call.  While an occasional — and situationally appropriate — visit to a Facebook page, personal email, tweet, phone call, or text message that in no way impacts performance seems hardly worth a managers concern. 

Similarly, employees must bear their own responsibility to exercise sound judgment regarding where, when, and how often they interrupt their work activities to attend to personal matters.  When an employee’s judgment is flawed, a good manager must intervene.

In the end, I believe, it all comes down to SOUND JUDGMENT all around and the ability of managers to set aside rigid opinions of all kinds.  There is no one size fits all answer to how much personal social interaction is appropriate in any format and in every situation. That is what managers and their employees together must decide.

Categories: Exercising Responsibility, Managing & Leading, Managing People

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