Report: Social Media Can Disorient Employees

News Updates

Many employees are caught in a communications vortex as they struggle to keep up with their e-mail and monitor social media, according to a new report, The New New Inbox—How E-mail and Social Media Changed Our Lives.

The effect of all these channels of communication—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Google and Yahoo groups, RSS feeds, Delicious bookmark—is a workforce that is “scattered and disoriented,” said Pierre Khawand, founder and CEO of People-OnTheGo, which conducted the survey.

The survey was conducted during summer 2010 with 1,000 business professionals from the U.S. Many respondents were from Generation X (47.2 percent) or were Baby Boomers (40.7 percent).

While social media can create opportunities for organizations, it is “misused and contributing little to productivity” and shrinking the bottom line, Khawand said during a Nov. 11, 2010, webcast.  People are spending, on average, more than 4.5 hours a day on e-mail and social media combined.

In fact, 39 percent said their use of social media at work is more for personal than work reasons vs. nearly 33 percent who use it more for work than personal reasons. A smaller percentage (21.4 percent) said their social media use is completely for personal reasons; 6.8 percent use it only for work.

And there is a social media “divide” among generations and work functions, according to the 213-page report. Sales and marketing professionals, for example, seem to have adopted social media significantly more than top management and administrative professionals.

Other findings:

  • E-mail usage during work outweighs social media 3-to-1. Twitter has little traction except among Generation Y.
  • Nearly one-fourth of business professionals check inboxes as soon as new information shows up.
  • Social media use is on the rise—58.5 percent check Facebook regularly, and nearly 50 percent check LinkedIn regularly. About 23 percent check Twitter, and 22 percent read blogs.
  • People spend an average of 3.27 hours per day on e-mail alone.
  • Generation Y spends an average of 1.8 hours per day on social media; Generation X, 1.2 hours; Baby Boomers, 1 hour; and Traditionalists (older Americans), 0.59 hours.
  • Employees at companies with fewer than 1,000 workers seem to have adopted social media more than those at large companies.

Social media presents opportunities for businesses—allowing workers to connect, share information and collaborate with team members and others across their organization, according to the report.

This can translate, Khawand said in the report, “into a myriad of business applications, including market research, public relations, marketing, recruiting … undertaking new business ventures and having valuable exchanges of all sorts.”

There are challenges for HR and IT, including legal and security risks, the need to make new decisions about how to manage and balance work and personal use of these platforms, and the inclination to interrupt work constantly to keep up with the incessant flow of information, Khawand said.

“The one responsibility that this puts on HR is really jumping into social media and becoming more knowledgeable and providing the guidance for the workforce on how to maneuver this world of social media in a way that is more productive,” he said during the webcast.

Instead of avoiding social media, HR can use it to help with recruiting and other applications that can benefit an organization, he noted.

“It puts some interesting tasks in front of HR, like updating some of the policies and some of the training and education, but it’s more in terms of leveraging it and guiding everyone on how to [use] it in a productive way.”

Among recommendations for organizations from People-OnTheGo:

  • Have HR and IT conduct training on the various communication platforms and how to leverage them.
  • Look for tools and technologies that can help streamline inboxes.
  • Have clear guidelines on social media.
  • Have clear guidelines on social media use but look for ways to harness it so its use helps the organization.
  • Identify selected applications, experiment and gain experience with social media, and collect real data.
  • The extent of a social media initiative should be proportional to the extent that the company’s customers, partners and those who are influential in the industry are involved in social media.
  • Involve customers, partners and those who are influential in the industry that can help steer the initiative in the right direction.
  • Encourage those who are savvy users of social media to mentor others as a way to increase collaboration.
  • Mark Bennett, product strategy director at Oracle who was among the webcast speakers, noted that HR professionals need to embrace social media in a way that benefits their employers.

While Bennett says it’s good to have a social media policy, he added that it’s a mistake to think that merely having a policy is sufficient. He recommends using employees to help devise a strategy that’s right for the organization’s use of social media.

“The opportunity is that once organizations integrate social media more and more into the way they do work …we’re going to have a much better insight into what our workforce is capable of doing” and benefit from employees who are tapped into social media.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.