Social Media Is Not The Problem. You Are.

I'm advancing my career. Honest.

Not a day goes by where I don’t see some mention of how companies are blocking access to sites like twitter and facebook. THE HORROR! Social media evangelists will cry out how this is backwards thinking, how these sites are crutial for career management, that it’s a lack of trust, or just downright unfair. But they’re wrong. It’s the fault of both the employees and management themselves. Not some damn website.

In addition to the various web development / WordPress ninja freelance work I do, I’ve also developed somewhat of a niche of doing IT consulting for attorneys. And lately, it’s been the same story. Employees are spending too much time on-line, can I block their access? The answer is yes, and I’m happy to do it. Because it’s not a matter of these companies standing in the way of employee development. They’re attempting to fix a problem. The employees aren’t working. Think about it: if the work was getting done, there’d be no issue. But there’s a breakdown somewhere.

Here’s the dirty secret: the same employees who are on facebook and twitter all day are the ones who used to be on other sites all day, and before that were emailing people all day, and before that chatting on the phone. You see, the employee hasn’t changed at all, just the methods and technologies they use. And for every 1 employee who is using these tools in a productive manner, there are 100 who are filling out useless surveys about their survival chances in a zombie attack or playing Scrabble.

Here’s the other dirty secret: managers are ill-equipped to deal with this. It used to be that they’d just fire the person. But now that’s not all that easy. And many of them now manage people who act the same way they did when they were regular employees. So how do you discipline someone? I certainly don’t have the answer for that. There’s a reason I don’t manage more than 1 person other than myself.

The bottom line? It’s not a technology problem. It’s a human resources problem.

{ 10 comments }

Carlos Miceli October 12, 2009 at 7:41 pm

I can see the blame you’re talking about.

The thing is that you can’t “discipline” human psychology without it having detrimental effects. I think we need to accept that people need to rest their minds sometimes, maybe doing something productive or not.

Most of the times I think that the solution is giving your employees work that motivates them. That’s the best and hardest solution.

Also, not everyone ca have that kind of job, and not every manager can ahave that employee. 90% will be stuck with people surfing Facebook, sadly.

Norcross October 12, 2009 at 8:34 pm

I agree that you can’t (and shouldn’t) expect your employees to work non-stop. But unlike other avenues, many folks who look to ‘clear’ their minds on social media sites do it in excess, often to the detriment of their work. Also, there are a lot of security concerns that need to be addressed.

Monica O'Brien October 13, 2009 at 11:43 am

I agree with you that the same people who waste time on Facebook are the people who wasted time before.

My issue is that management always tries to fix things with IT. If what you are saying is true, then blocking Facebook does not make employees any more productive. So maybe management is trying to solve a problem, but really they have hiring problem, or a mismanagement problem, not a Facebook problem.

I know you kind of touched on that point towards the end of your post – is that what you meant?

Norcross October 13, 2009 at 11:54 am

Yes, that’s exactly what I was alluding to. I’m by no means a HR person, but I agree the solution comes from that angle.

One thing that the survey doesn’t ask, however, is if any of them block the sites for regulatory reasons. Sarbanes-Oxley requires banks and financial firms to monitor and archive ALL personal correspondence (emails, IMs, etc). My current employer achieves that by blocking not only social media, but all personal email sites as well. There’s no way to archive what I may send through facebook, so the only way to be in compliance with that law is to block it all together.

Lance Haun October 13, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Andrew, great post. You want to know something funny? RIM (the makers of the Blackberry smartphone) is still trying dismantle social media blocking at their company. Since almost everyone is both given a BB and encouraged to use it (even during meetings), guess what the primary use of the BB was (besides e-mail)? If you guessed getting around the company blockade on social media, you’d be right on.

Everyone knows who the low performers are and aren’t in an organization. As an HR professional, it didn’t mean a lick to me why they were under performing either. Organizations who deal with it through leadership rather than regulation will always win.

If your most productive team member is on Facebook an hour a day, I just don’t see the problem with that. The question for any person looking to slap down this high performer is ask themselves why the rest of the team is being outperformed by a person who is on Facebook for an hour a day. That’s the real problem.

Norcross October 13, 2009 at 4:28 pm

That’s been my opinion all along. I’ll be the first to admit that I am on twitter while I work (no facebook, though. it’s blocked due to regulatory reasons), yet I still crank out more work than most. Whether it’s a matter of being more adept at the job or something else, my boss realizes that it isn’t a problem. Hence, no issues.

Tyler Karaszewski October 13, 2009 at 8:55 pm

To paraphrase you:
“Evangelists will cry out how these sites are crucial and that blocking them is unfair. But they’re wrong. It’s the fault of both the employees and management themselves. Not some damn website.”

Whoever said “it” (whatever the heck that refers to — lack of focus on work?) was the fault of the websites? No one said that. What are these evangelists wrong about? That it’s unfair? Didn’t you say that your “opinion all along” is: “If your most productive team member is on Facebook an hour a day, I just don’t see the problem with that.”

Wouldn’t that imply that blocking these sites *is* unfair, and that these evangelists are right?

Your dirty little secret is “employees slack off”. You concede that you do it too (on twitter), and imply that firing people is a reasonable solution to this problem, except for modern political reasons. It logically follows that your employer should fire you as that would be a solution to this slacking problem.

Except that your opinion all along is that this slacking problem isn’t necessarily a problem.

So I don’t know what point you’re trying to make at all.

Norcross October 13, 2009 at 9:35 pm

The evangelists make a lot of noise that these sites are serving ‘the greater good’, and gloss over the fact that many (if not most) users are there purely for recreational purposes. For all the businesses I’ve dealt with, it has become a problem, with employees not meeting deadlines, yet logfiles show 4 hours or more a day on these sites. A point of mine you overlooked: “If the work was getting done, there wouldn’t be a problem.” No reasonable manager expects 100% of time spent on work, and most don’t care if you take a ‘mental break’ and surf the web. But it’s become excessive for too many people.

My reference to firing people was that in the past, companies would cut ‘dead weight’, i.e. people who weren’t getting the job done for whatever reason. Now, there is apprehension to doing so.

It isn’t unfair to block sites, or for that matter make any reasonable restriction on an employee’s use of resources, both tangible and digital. It’s their time, not mine. If no facebook access hinders me that much, then maybe I need to find a new job.

DrJohnDrozdal October 13, 2009 at 11:55 pm

Andrew this is a great post!

I spend a lot of my time teaching managers how to manage. Blocking access to social media sites will simply result in unproductive employees finding other ways to remain unproductive unless…managers give their direct reports clear expectations with defined deliverables and hold them accountable for producing results. When managers aggressively manage performance and hold employees accountable for results – which by the way is what they are paid to do – then whether or not employees have access to social media sites becomes a non-issue.

JNez October 14, 2009 at 8:29 pm

i’m not sure if we’re talking about being on twitter/facebook all day or an hour a day but there is certainly a difference. for most, using twitter at work is more of a background activity that you monitor intermittingly when you’re otherwise engaged with work. if an employer has proof that someone is on facebook/twitter and still shows no lack of productivity, i don’t see how using the site all day would still be an issue. i do think i understand the argument you’re trying to make here, and that is that social media isn’t a villian or problem in the workplace unless it’s abused. and if it’s being abused it’s because there are abusive and unproductive employees who need to be rooted out and fired. i agree.