Are social networks good for job productivity?

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You're sitting at your cubicle and you need to take a break from the spreadsheet you've been staring at for the past hour. So you decide to log on to Facebook for a little diversion. As you're reading the latest status update from the kid who sat next to you in math class in the fifth grade, a shadow falls across your desk. It's your boss, and he's looming over you with his eyes locked on your computer screen. Do you quickly minimize the page and sheepishly mumble "sorry"? Or, could you make a solid case to him that by viewing your Facebook page, you're actually increasing your productivity in the workplace?

Although most people think of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter as time-wasters, a number of studies have shown just the opposite. That's right -- using social networking Web sites may actually increase your job productivity. In fact, studies show that employees who use social networking sites are 9 percent more productive than those who don't [source: Fahmy].


It seems counterintuitive, right? How could sites that take you away from the task at hand make you more productive? Researchers credit social networking sites with giving workers needed brain breathers. When you take a couple of minutes to check up on the people and organizations you follow on Twitter, your mind gets a break from writing that tedious annual report. Additionally, it seems that people who are more social by nature and are connected to a variety of people through social networking sites are better people-persons in the workplace, which means they're skilled at interacting with others and solving problems. Social networking can also help companies track consumer trends and explore marketing strategies.

Even though studies say social networking may increase worker productivity, not all businesses are happy about their employees using these sites. The stigma of social networking as a time-wasting activity definitely seems to dominate most companies' perceptions. Many companies block or closely monitor social networking sites. What are the pros and cons of poking your friends on Facebook while you're on the clock? Find out on the next page.


Cons of Social Networking at Work

Twitter co-founder and CEO Evan Williams -- joining "the people" via online tweets. 
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Should you be allowed to twitter while you're at work? And, if you do, will your boss be "following" your little 140-character "tweets"? What might be the consequences of social networking at work?

Social networking has created a buzz in the business world. And not all employers agree that repeat visits to Facebook and Twitter are good for productivity. Jackson Lewis LLP, an employment law firm, conducted a survey of more than 100 employers in the New York metropolitan area to gather information about how social networking has affected relationships between bosses and staff. The study found that 56 percent of employers monitored employee's use of the Internet during office hours. Thirty-eight percent blocked employees from social networking sites, and 6 percent of these employers fired employees for using social networking sites while on the clock [source: HR Tools]. Another survey of 200 human resources managers found that one in three employers think social networking decrease productivity, and 25 percent block all access to social networking sites [source: HR Tools].


In addition to concerning themselves with whether social networking is stealing employees' attention, employers are also checking up on what potential and current employees are saying about them on these Web sites. Twelve percent of employers checked out potential employees' online profile before offering them a job [source: HR Tools]. The same survey found that 16 percent of these employers monitored social networking sites to see what current and former employees were saying about them [source: HR Tools]. Obviously, you should always be careful about what you say about your employer online. For example, 13 members of Virgin Atlantic airlines were fired for sharing not-so-flattering remarks about their employer on Facebook [source: HR Tools]. Additionally, teachers in Charlotte, N.C., were suspended without pay for comments they posted on Facebook about their students and school district [source: Charlotte Observer].

But if you're not posting all-too-candid remarks about your boss on your social networking site, does using one really impede your potential for success at work? Is all this monitoring really necessary -- and, more importantly, is it worth the expense? Companies spend millions of dollars on software designed to block social networking sites. But several studies have shown that personal Web browsing can increase productivity and thus increase profits.


Pros of Social Networking at Work

If your boss catches you with Twitter on your screen, you just might have a good argument for your online gabbing. A number of studies have suggested that social networking is good for job productivity.

A study conducted by the University of Melbourne in Australia found that employees who surfed the Internet for personal reasons are 9 percent more productive than those who don't [source: Fahmy]. This study looked at 300 workers, 70 percent of whom used the Internet for personal browsing. Researchers found that personal Web browsing sharpened an employee's concentration. According to the study, by taking short breaks, your mind can rest a while, and when you return to the task at hand, your brain will be refreshed and renewed. However, the study only researched those who used these sites in moderation, or less than 20 percent of their total time at work. People with addictive Internet habits might be less productive.


Another study conducted by AT&T also found that the use of social networking tools increased efficiency. The company, which sells Internet connection services (a fact that reveals its stake in the matter), conducted an independent study that survey 2,500 employees in five European countries. Of the employees using social networking sites:

  • Sixty-five percent said social networking made their colleagues and themselves more efficient workers.
  • Forty-six percent found that it gave them more ideas and made them more creative.
  • Thirty-eight percent found that social networking helped them to gain knowledge and come up with solutions to problems.
  • Thirty-six percent reported that social networking allowed them to collect knowledge about employees and customers.
  • Thirty-two percent asserted that sites created team building opportunities.

Employees also reported that social networking has become part of the culture of their workplace [source: AT&T].

However, the study also found a few downsides to social networking in the workplace. Forty-nine percent of workers reported distraction as a downfall, while 45 percent worried about leaks of confidential information [source: AT&T].

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that those employees with the largest social networks were 7 percent more productive than colleagues with fewer Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Interestingly, in the same workplace, those employees who had more face-to-face interactions were 30 percent more productive [source: Hodgson].

Taking a cue from sites like Facebook, businesses are beginning to create internal company networking sites. Hundreds of companies, such as Saturn and Smart Car, use internal social networks. These sites work especially well for companies that are dispersed around the globe. They make it easier for employees to communicate and brainstorm with colleagues on the other side of the world. LinkedIn, a social network for professionals, launched Company Groups, a site in which a company can create a forum for all of its employees. About a thousand companies have already signed on for this service [source: USA Today].

For more information on social networking sites and their effect on humanity, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Fahmy, Miral. "Facebook, YouTube at work make better employees." Reuters. Yahoo Tech. April 2, 2009.
  • Helms, Ann Doss. "Teachers disciplined for Facebook postings. Charlotte Observer. Nov. 12, 2008."
  • Hodgson, Matthew. "The ROI of being social at work." The App Gap. Feb. 19, 2009.
  • Sinrod, Eric J. "Can social networking coexist with the workplace." CNET News. Dec. 17, 2007.
  • "Social Networking in the Workplace Increases Efficiency." AT&T. Nov. 11, 2008.
  • "Social Networking Survey Results Released By One Of Nation's Largest Employment Law Firms." HR Tools. December 2008.
  • Stone, Brad. "Social Networking's Next Phase. New York Times. March 3, 2007.
  • Swarz, Jon. "Social networking sites boost productivity." USA Today. Oct. 8, 2008.