Petra Luetkewitte

Postgraduate Student & Freelancer, The University of Sydney, Business School

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How can we prevent that Facebook use during working hours cuts productivity?

A lot of companies are facing the problem that facebook usage during working hours is increasing and cutting productivity. Recently this problem was solved by blocking pages like that in the companies network. With smart phones this issue seems to be out of the companies´s control. One possible solution could be a jammer, that blocks mobile data. But this would be blocking the whole phone line.


What do you think? Is that a problem that has to be addressed? Could blocking phones be a solution or how should this problem be solved?

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    Mar 27 2012: I made a personal choice for privacy, time wasting and other reasons to close my facebook account.
    So I solved the problem for them. I notice most senior execs in my business don't have fb accts.

    Blocking company internet seems reasonable if FB etc is abused. But most have smartphones.
    In some work places you'd think it would be enough to say dont FB in working hours but ok during breaks.

    Surely its not that different from managing other time wasting behaviours at work.
    I've told my reports excessive or continual background use on facebook twitter and IM in the past is the same as excessive personal phone calls or texts. Not acceptable. It's just managing people. Making the expected behaviours clear and following up.
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      Apr 12 2012: Good thought, probably people that want to waste time on other stuff, can still do it, even though the company implements restrictions on the internet usage. Though I think social media e.g. FB offers really attractive and easy ways to get distracted. Even people that usually would not get distracted or do other things at work, might be tempted easier. especially through push notifications.
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    Mar 26 2012: I don't really think that this should be a problem.
    Agree upon work goals with your employees and don't micro manage them. As long as they achieve or exceed the goals, who really cares, whether or not they access FB ?
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      Apr 12 2012: Of course there are people, that don't need strict working hours and setting goals is enough to manage them. I agree, that you would not mind them using facebook on the work place. However, there are other types of workers, that need strict working hours and that just work from 8-5 as agreed in the contract. Even though they might have wasted time on fb and other websites, they would not do more. Furthermore, it is not for every position possible to find. set or monitor goals, especially if it is in the creative area etc. I know one department in a company where almost everybody is online on facebook throughout the whole day. Especially in big hierarchies it is often difficult to really monitor and assess the actual potential of a worker at the bottom of the hierarchy. Goals are often adjusted to the experienced productivity, so who knows if worker A could actually achieve way more/or the goal way faster, when not being on facebook?
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    Apr 20 2012: There's another perspective. Sometimes work needs to be done by people who would rather be doing something else. But the people doing the work are adults who have decided to make a living by doing that particular job. It would be nice if everyone could spend their entire working life doing something they enjoy, but that's not the real world. It is an essential part of the management function to generate the motivation to get the work done. And it's not a matter of luck having good managers, it's a matter of effective recruitment.

    As regards internet access, there is no hard and fast rule. Some jobs require relatively unfettered internet access, others don't.

    Where access is provided it is reasonable to assume that those workers will exercise a degree of self discipline. In that context a certain amount of monitoring is reasonable, provided there is a well published policy stating what is acceptable, and it is reasonable to back this up with management checks and sanctions for abuse.

    Where there is no requirement for internet access for a particular role, there is no reason to provide it as part of the work environment, although some companies provide cafe type access for those workers to use in their breaks.

    Don't forget that there are issues such as security and data privacy which companies must deal with, and these are highly relevant to the internet access they allow.

    The other side of the question is whether people should be allowed to access the web on smartphones at times when they are being paid to do something else. Again it's a management issue. No decent maanger is going to object to someone checking emails or texts in the event of a family crisis, or if they are waiting for medical or exam results or similar. Equally, no decent manager is going to put up with staff who are not doing the job they are paid to do.
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      Apr 26 2012: Thanks Anne for this structured feedback. I agree, that management plays an important role in this discussion and it is important to distinguish between internet access at the companies' computer and on private smart phones. That is exactly my point. Though so far, there is no real solution to that and as you pointed out, there are the problems of privacy issues and data security, that both have to be addressed in any solution. What do you think, should people be allowed to access the web on smartphones at times when they are being paid to do something else? My answer is no, they should not be allowed to do that. Assuming it would be possible, just to block mobile data while still enabline the employees to text and call, the question is, would employees take this as a reason to quit and work for other companies that are allowing smartphone/internet access? How important is this to employees?
    • Apr 26 2012: Taking this into account is it just organisation/department/industry/management specific? Yes, therefore it becomes hard to create a blanket technology for blocking mobile phone data. Within one organisation a marketing department may use the SM platforms extensively whereas in say the finance department this is definitely not the case!

      Therefore it is essential to look at the specifics of this technology and it's ability to be customised for particular departments that utilise SM platforms.
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      Apr 26 2012: I think this is a very good comment. I like to think that everyone is very happy to do their job and won't abuse Facebook. In reality some people just work for the money and want to do as little as possible.
  • Apr 18 2012: Petra, I work for local government, so many different departments and staff have direct contact with communities/local people and have a legitimate reason to be using social media. I accept that in other companies, fewer staff may need access. However, *everyone* is allowed to use social media, and count this in the same way as they would a coffee break or a cigarette break, taking a personal phone call, etc. Our employer does not seek to distinguish between personal time and work time - they trust us to make this distinction ourselves - though they would take disciplinary action against anyone who was found to abuse the trust. I think they judge that the benefits outweigh the risks.
    • Apr 20 2012: Or they don't rely on full productivity of their workforce because they are not competing in an open market. I know this is pretty stereotypical but productivity in the world of government employment can be a whole different ball game than in other industries.
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        Apr 26 2012: Peter, that is an interesting point. Though I know that the trust practice is a very common basis in a lot of other employment relationships. The company I worked for is an automotive supplier and trusts their employees in a similar way. I think especially in big companies it is always difficult though to make sure that abuse is discovered etc. But the thought of that the benefits outweight the risks is a good hint, since I know, monitoring and applying rules and then working in a very unflexible environment can also slow business down and decrease productivity and even motivation.
  • Apr 18 2012: Yes, I think they do. There are 'carrots' and 'sticks' at work, encouraging employees to use SM appropriately. Firstly, there is a clear written policy specifying what is allowed and what isn't, and stating clearly that misuse of electronic equipment including SM is a disciplinary offence. But perhaps just as importantly, most people are busy all the time doing productive and/or rewarding work - I am certainly far too busy, and usually too engaged, to 'waste' time.

    If you know people who "are doing private stuff all the time" then I would suggest that they are very de-motivated and disengaged. Management would probably benefit more from increasing the challenge and responsibility they give these workers, rather than taking a punitive approach.
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    Apr 17 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2cO69uKa1s
    This is an interesting video I found on youtube about it, showing an episode of the show newsy! The hightlight the legal parts behind that.. It is not a crime to check facebook, but, if the company has prohibited to use the computer for private purpose, you could still get in trouble.
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    Mar 26 2012: I don't think blocking is the solution. I also don't think that it reduces everybody's productivity, either, although I am sure it is a major distraction for some people.

    I think that networking will take the place of skype, e-mails, and other ways of communicating eventually. Currently, facebook is the big one and everyone is on the 'social' buzz but I think there is potential for networks specifically for businesses and "the office".

    Trying to fit new habits and social phenomena (for want of a better phrase) to traditional ways of doing things won't be effective.

    Again, I'm not sure productivity is a line that starts at 8:00am and continues straight until 5:00pm. For me, taking a moment away from the task at hand can help me re-focus when I come back to the task which in turn can help me to stay 'productive' over the course of the working day.
    • Apr 26 2012: I agree with you Scott. It helps to be able to take a moment and take of non-work related things in order to get things organized or stay connected to people.

      However, there are a lot of jobs that go exactly from 8am-5pm. How can you make sure that an employee does not take advantage of SM at work and handles it in a responsible manner?
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    Mar 26 2012: There are interesting researches going on this topic at various universities, results are somewhat opposite, for example :
    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/news/2009/04/reuters_us_work_internet_tech_life

    With the penetration of smart-phones and 4G, it is absolutely impossible to disconnect employees from these means of social communications, it surely affects productivity if the employees are not motivated enough towards their work.
    Jamming networks is not a sane idea, it may completely disconnect employees from their families during office hours, which will surely be protested.

    There has to be some midway, on which researches are still in progress :)
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    Apr 26 2012: Is it realistic to prevent or stop social media use with over a billion users? The world or especially employees/customers are changing, so the organizations have to adapt themselves as well to be ready for this.
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    Apr 26 2012: There are companies that help organizations with the use and misuse of employees social media. I know someone that works for Hearsay Social. This is what they say:

    Hearsay Social powers the compliant use of social media for financial services organizations at the corporate, branch, and advisor levels. Wealth managers, recruiters, financial advisors, and agents use Hearsay Social for LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Industry leaders like Farmers Insurance Group have chosen Hearsay Social to power their social compliance and social marketing while meeting FINRA, IIROC, and SEC regulations and avoiding branding mishaps.
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    Apr 18 2012: I definitely see the problem here. But I don't think that blocking is the solution. And mostly there are ways around those blockings anyway.

    Blocking would be a sign of distrust to your employees. I think other incentives should be in place for employees to make sure they do they their job and are not wasting their time all day. A good company/manager should be able to realise this without penalizing employees.

    I worked in a company where people could use Fb whenever they wamted and sometimes it was a bit distracting, but these people got their work done. And it feels good to have the freedom to do what you want to do even during working hours. This trust and freedom is a lot more motivating than having a lot of restrictions. I also realize this depends on the kind of work and employees.

    So don't block but keep your people happy and let them have some fun so they will do what is expected!
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      Apr 26 2012: Derek, thanks for this input, which highlights one technical problem, I have not really thought off. Of course, if you are an employee with a technical/IT focus or even with some passion for that, you are probably able to find a way around the blocking. However, I don't think the attitude of "I want to do what I want at work" is a little bit to idealistic. As mentioned in other parts of this conversation, some people might not like their work in general.
  • Apr 18 2012: I think that the problem really comes down to identifying the difference between work SM and non-work SM. It is nearly impossible to create an objective difference (between the two) without categorisation from the user themselves. Does this then lie in the hands of Facebook to create work/personal profiles that may be accessed individually?
  • Apr 17 2012: I think we are talking about a classic agent-principle problem here.

    No matter what it is that can distract the agent/worker from doing his/her job, this problem will always occur in the workforce. If the principle/employee cannot construct an efficient method of compensating the employee in a way that he/she acts according to the job description, the the agent/employee will always do other things on the side.

    It is very questionable, whether or not a ban of using facebook or other websites would change an employees behaviour. It would certainly not change their intrinsic motivation.
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    Apr 12 2012: It is possible for a good manager to keep people actively involved even when the work is scarecely inviting.

    As an example, I had an excellent team leader working for me in a company whose book of business was being sold. The work was being moved elsewhere, so the employees had no reason to commit to the future of the company. The work that needed to be done was pretty uninspiring, mainly clearing up the sort of tasks that aren't properly completed when a companyt is busy. So you might reasonably have expected a demotivated team which did the minimum amount possible. That wasn't the case.

    The atmospher was great because the team leader made the effort to keep people involved and motivated, and because he did it well, the positive atmosphere continued when he wasn't there.

    It's much more effective to give people a reason to do the work they're there to do than to demotivate them further by issuing bans. But it does need more management effort.
    • Apr 17 2012: But people are so diverse. You may have liked the management style of that particular manager. However, someone else might have not liked him at all and would have rather spend every minute without supervision on facebook.

      I am sure if you looked around in some other offices, you would find a lot of people wasting a lot of time during work hours on facebook and other work unrelated websites.

      I believe there must be a solution to prevent this other than relying on engaging management, which is subjective.
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        Apr 17 2012: Peter, you have misread my post - this team leader worked for me, not the other way round. My post was not about how I like to be managed. What I liked was the fact that, with a diverse team brought together to do boring work in circumstances where team members had good reason to be demotivated, this team leader exercised good management skills to build a motivated team. Every person on that team would, if left alone, have chosen to spend the working day on other activities than the ones which needed to be done.

        If you consider the real world, very few people are in jobs whcih they find totally absorbing and challenging every second of every working day. Yet those jobs need to be done. Management is quite simply people exercising tools, techniques and competencies to ensure the work is done. There's nothing subjective about it.
        • Apr 20 2012: Sorry about misreading the about the structure of your company.

          Don't you think that it is very subjective whether or not an employee finds the working environment engaging/motivating? I guess that's what makes the hiring process so crucial. One needs to hire employees that are a good fit for the environment.

          I think you were lucky to have an engaging manager like this working for your company. However, I believe that it is hard to attract good managers like this. Especially managing the boring jobs that you are talking about aren't much fun to manage.

          Would you provide unlimited internet access to all levels of your company and trust all your managers to be as engaging and motivating as the one you mentioned?
  • Mar 29 2012: I work in local government. My employer's policy is that use of social media (SM) takes place in your own time, so counts as any other break, unless you're using SM for work purposes. To keep the boundaries between personal and professional clear, I now have a work Facebook account as well as a personal one. There are legitimate, and growing, reasons for individuals to use SM for work, if they have any kind of 'front facing' or public role. If you ban or block SM entirely, you cut your organization off from the outside world, and fail to make the most of the opportunities SM give you for improving customer relations, marketing, networking, etc.
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      Apr 12 2012: Thanks for your reply! But how does the company distinguish between personal time and working time? Are workers actually cutting the SM usage time off, when doing a break? I think, there are reasons for a company to use FB, though this would probably limited to only one department (which in the company I worked for, had special networks right, e.g. access to facebook). If it is about having a profile of the employees, people could see so the company would be closer to the public, wouldn't linkedin be better for this purpose? And it does not offer that many opportunities to misuse it.
    • Apr 17 2012: Fiona,

      The two separate accounts are a very good idea. However, do all your other colleagues in your department do the same?

      I know a lot of people that work in SM for their company but are doing private stuff all the time. How can employers make sure that more people treat it your way rather than wasting paid time on SM?
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    Mar 27 2012: It's a management issue. If managers are allowing people to spend time on FB and this prevents them from doin g the work they are paid to do, then the managers aren't doing their job.

    That needn't mean stopping people using FB. It could mean generating the enthusiasm/ commitment for the work in hand so that people give that priority.
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      Apr 12 2012: That could be right, though not everybody works out of enthusiasm or commitment. Some people do jobs, that are not fun (to them) and they do it simply for the money. Thus, their attitude sometimes is to work as little as possible --> they need stricter monitoring. I have experienced that with a lot of young apprentices that were given certain tasks, but as soon as their supervisor is not present anymore, they would not be working anymore. Though this might be more of a general problem, that is reinforced by smartphones but not solved by banning them.
  • Mar 26 2012: Strict policy and procedure in regards to cell phones in general should be in place . Some companies do not allow camera phones at the work place . Cell phone use should only be used on your break or on your own personal time. If an employee does not want to follow company procedure , find some one else for the job . There are plenty of people in the unemployment pool that would happily forgo "facebook"for a steady pay check . Cutting productivity is as harmful to a company as walking out the door with company property. Plain and simple time is money just like stealing a company laptop . If I am not doing what I am supposed to be doing at work I am stealing from the company . Zero tolerance policy would curtail that rather quickly.
    • Apr 26 2012: lee,

      I disagree with you. I don't think that 100% of an employee's thoughts can be work related throughout the entire day. Employees are human and need to be relaxed and stable in order to perform best at work. I believe they should be able to get things off their mind during the work day in order to be relaxed. Thinking that a person could possibly focus purely on work related topics for 8 hours is unrealistic.
      • Apr 26 2012: I agree, in a perfect world, yes an employee will be solely focused upon the task at hand. We all know that this is something that many individuals are unable to do!
  • Mar 26 2012: I think my TED use is far more effective cutting my productivity on working hours =S jaja
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      Apr 12 2012: Do you get something out of TED for your job then? I mean in the right position/company this could be inspiring and the TED use would add value for the company. If not, how would you react, if your company would be blocking TED due to a conspicuous high usage during working hours?
      • Apr 16 2012: I would react with acquiesce... I mean, it'd be my fault after all. I do sometimes get something out of TED for my job (research assistant) but its rarely the ca
        • Apr 26 2012: I think the work related benefits employees will get out of TED will be marginal. They may get inspired by a speech but the personal motivation to accomplish things should be the basis for getting hired.

          For actual research TED may not be the most reliable source for employees as it often presents personal ideas and thoughts.
  • Mar 26 2012: Dont allow mobiles in working place. Block facebook in your network also.
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      Apr 12 2012: This could be a solution, but I think in our times it is almost impossible to forbid mobiles in general at the working place. First, employees should be able to use them in breaks, second, they want to be reachable in emergency situations (especially, when they have kids etc.).. A lot of companies, that have identified (or anticipated) facebook as a problem, have already blocked facebook, youtube etc in their network. This leads back to the problem of the use of smart phones: They don't use the company's network, thus, facebook is accessible again, though the company has obviously decided, not to allow it in their working place.