15th January 2016

Don’t Overlook The Power Of Facebook

Did you know that the average person spends 20 minutes on Facebook and other social media forums each working day? That is 1 hour and 40 minutes each week and over 2 whole days each year. Whether it is checking the photo you’ve been tagged in, catching up with the hundreds of group messages on Whatsapp or identifying who has retweeted your last tweet, employees are doing this on employer time. With the recent European judgment allowing employers to read an employee’s private emails sent during working hours, it seems that an employer’s powers to monitor email and social media activities are ever increasing. There is no doubt that too much time spent on these forums can cost the employer money (time equals money to the employer), but what is the best way for an employer to combat these issues?

Cons of social media

Are workplace distractions a new problem for employers? Employers have always had problems making the most out of their employees’ time. Whether it be the office chatterbox, the serial smoker or the one-more-tea-break-won’t-hurt-worker, employees have always found ways of distracting themselves from working. Could it be argued that a little light relief can avoid burnout and make the actual working time of an employee more productive? The difficulty with social media is that it is easy for employees to spend substantially longer on it than they initially intended.

 Pros of social media 

Nowadays social media is far more powerful than simply being a way of keeping up to date with your friends’ activities. The millennial generation grew up with social media. They continue to find new and innovative ways to use the facilities to develop business. Businesses are therefore more willing to spend time using social media to their advantage and to raise their own profile. We (the Employment team) have noticed a significant rise in attendees at our seminars since we took to the Twittersphere and people often approach us to talk about what we have been getting up to. It is ensuring that employees use these facilities productively that can be more challenging.

What can the employers do?

One of my previous employers had a policy of blocking access to social media at their work station during working hours. These days, with the advent of smartphones and an ever-growing use of social media in business, I do not believe that this is practical. Rather than trying to combat social media use head-on, I would recommend showing a bit of trust in your employees and working out ways in which you can use it to your advantage. Employers are within their rights to monitor social media use, but they should keep in mind the following:

  • Monitoring social media use is difficult. It is difficult to differentiate between what is personal use and what is for the benefit of the company.
  • Employers should monitor the employee’s productivity. Employers can consider whether, if employees are still completing their work on time, does it really affect the business? If they are not able to complete their work, then you may want to take separate action.
  • Try and find ways to engage the employees with their work. If they are focussed on what they are doing, they will not look for distractions.
  • It is imperative that employers have a social media policy in place. Employees need to know their activities are being monitored and they need clear examples of what is acceptable and unacceptable activity.

Employers now have increasing powers to monitor the productivity of their employees, but it is how they choose to implement these powers that will truly affect the productivity.   Social media is here for the long term.  It is short-sighted for an employer to seek to ban or ignore it.  Instead an employer would be wise to embrace social media and harness the opportunities that come with it.  Take advice about your policies and practices.  And don’t let the social media monster run riot in your business.

Andrew Wallace
Solicitor – Employment Law



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