A recent survey has suggested that half of the UKs employees are banned from using Facebook and other social networking sites. Companies blame the ban on wasted time and also the risk of misrepresenting the company image. So is the ban justifiable and is it beneficial to implement the restriction?

Looking first at the reasons why employees SHOULD be allowed to use the social networking sites, a survey in 2008 concluded that companies which allowed e-time during the working day made workers more productive and boosted morale and thus reduced stress. Goldsmiths College went so far as to suggest that £4 billion pounds a year was being lost by companies who’s employees were not putting enough effort into work. Obviously, it’s questionable how much an employee’s productivity would increase by using Facebook specifically, but certainly the opportunity to relax and take time away from work for 5 minutes, will help the employee. When employees were questioned, 85% suggested that an ebreak made them more productive than stopping for a tea- maybe because they could drink tea and surf the internet at the same time!

On the other hand, using social networking sites can be dangerous. Not only is it difficult to patrol if staff were allowed to tweet or update but who’s to say that they will restrict themselves to 5 minutes every 2 hours for example? Does a bell ring so everyone can stop typing and check their Facebook and then drop their update mid sentence and return to work ‘productively’ when the bell rings 5 minutes later? Is the temptation not going to be too great?

What’s more, what are they going to be saying? Will they be connecting with friends to tell them how bored they are at work, or that the they wish they could hook up with another employee or the boss came in looking hungover? Once these types of updates are being made you’re treading dangerous ground. The BECTU (The Media and Entertainment Union) states ‘If you make disparaging comments on social networking sites about either your employer or third parties, you could be exposing yourself to being sued for defamation by either the employer or the third parties, or both, depending upon the circumstances’. Furthermore, an employee could be accused of harassment or even dismissed if the company feels the employment or hiring contract has been broken.

It is no doubt a minefield- do you prevent your staff from using social media but reduce their productivity OR allow them to make updates and risk negative comments being made about the company? Is it possible that companies could lift the ban during the 12-1 when most people take their lunch break? Could the company control administer a page/profile which allows the employees to interact with each other? It does seem that companies have been taken by surprise with the rise of social media- they don’t have their own strategies and presence arranged, let alone internal policies. It’s time they gave it some thought- it’s not going away any time soon!