Employers You Don’t Have a Facebook Problem You Have an Employee Problem

I hear questions like these a lot at conferences – How do I stop my employees from wasting time on Facebook? or What do I do with an employee who is spending too much time on Facebook?

My responds is always the same – You don’t have a Facebook problem you have an employee problem.  What would you do if that employee were spending too much time at the water cooler? Or on the phone with his girlfriend? Or playing solitaire all day? For some reason when people are presented with an old problem in a digital format they focus on the format and not the problem.

Ask some important questions – is this employee getting their work done? If the answer is yes, well then you need to decide if you really have a problem or if you just a problem with Facebook.  If they were spending time doing something else like chatting at the water cooler how would you feel? What if they were doing something less visible? Like emailing friends or playing solitaire or watching last nights episode of Lost or reading the news online?

If the answer is no he is not getting his work done, then blocking Facebook won’t solve your problem. This person will find another way to spend their time, walking around, playing solitaire, watching last night’s episode of Lost, reading the news.  You need to address the problem not the symptom. Blacklisting Facebook will only cause more problems.

“Banning Facebook and the like goes against the grain of how people want to interact. Often people are friends with colleagues through these networks and it is how some develop their relationships.” – Peter Bradwell

Measuring productivity in time is an assembly line mentality, working 8 hours produces 200 widgets, lose time and you lose widgets. In today’s knowledge workplace that doesn’t translate, taking breaks make workers more productive.

“Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day’s work, and as a result, increased productivity.” – Dr. Brent Coker

It is important for employees to socialize with coworkers to brainstorm and share ideas which leads to improved productivity and performance.  In a knowledge worker environment  an employees peers, his knowledge network, are more likely to be across the country than in the office next door.

Studies that accuse social networks of reducing productivity assume that time spent microblogging is time strictly wasted. But that betrays an ignorance of the creative process. Humans weren’t designed to maintain a constant focus on assigned tasks. We need periodic breaks to relieve our conscious minds of the pressure to perform — pressure that can lock us into a single mode of thinking.  – Brendan I. Koerner

Treating employees like the competent, intelligent adults that you hired (and if you’re not hiring competent intelligent adults you have a much larger problem) goes a long way to improving moral which improves productivity.

During the same time that Facebook grew from 100 million users to 200 million and Twitter went Oprah (March ’08 to March ’09) U.S business sector productivity has increased 2.0 percent. This is a bit off the recent historic rate 2.5% – but I don’t think anyone during this recession is blaming that on Twitter.

Companies that think they may have a productivity problem because of social networks and the like actually have a measurement problem – that is – they don’t know how to objectively measure whether an employee is meeting standards of productivity. In the absence of clear measurement – they resort to punitive actions (blocking these sites, monitoring employee behavior) that can damage morale and trust.

Lastly, most companies don’t recognize that they often expect employees to check email after hours and bring work home when needed. If this is the expectation then blocking employees from accessing these social sites during “work hours” is not a fair bargain Joshua-Michéle Ross

Let me be perfectly clear I am not advocating that you ignore a productivity problem or a problem employee, but address the problem not the symptom.


18 thoughts on “Employers You Don’t Have a Facebook Problem You Have an Employee Problem

  1. Total agreement here! For me, the work/not work time is blurred. I tend to think of my occupation as more of a lifestyle; it’s not like I stop being a librarian when I hang up my ID tag and go home. I’m making notes and checking email from work.

    I think it’s rather odd to expect employees to take their work life home with them, but demand that they leave their personal life at the door. Sure, it’s not unreasonable to place limits on what is appropriate, but limiting interfaces that build relationships is just counterproductive.


  2. I agree completely about addressing the behavior issue with the problem employee. I personally have strengthened relationships with co-workers via Facebook and enjoy interacting with them online in ways that we don’t have an opportunity to do during the work day. I wonder if we call Facebook a team building tool, would it still be seen as a “problem” by managers? In addition, if workers are banned or even discouraged from using social media at work, how are they supposed to be skilled enough to teach our patrons about these technologies?


    1. Great points Kelli! There are so many things library employees are expected to know about these days, especially in relation to technology.

      Plus I’d much rather an employee learn about Twitter by using it themselves than to learn on the fly with the library’s account.


  3. Agreed. And for those companies that are blocking employee access to social media apps out of fear or misunderstanding of the risks, I offer this helpful resource. It’s a whitepaper called “To Block or Not. Is that the question?”


    It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, SharePoint, etc.)


  4. Got to your blog via a tweet. Excellent article!
    “For some reason when people are presented with a old problem in a digital format they focus on the format and not the problem.” I’ll be quoting you!


  5. I agree with Andy – for knowledge workers in the 21st century, your time is NOT split between work and not-work. “Doing work” as a concept is much more fluid. Sometimes I get inspired and pound out a few pages of a report at midnight, when I am most productive. Just because I do it outside the watchful eye of my employers, does that make it a less valuable contribution to the workplace? No.

    Obviously, some professions lend themselves more naturally to this than others. If you’re a cook in a kitchen, taking a few minutes to use Facebook rather than stir the risotto could result in disaster! But for those of us doing knowledge work, there exists more flexibility.

    I like the point about morale. How many workplaces still look the other way when people go out back to take a smoke break, but frown on Twitter and the like? Until breaks seem to affect the product of an individual employee’s work, it’s better not to try and micromanage people’s time.


  6. Our boss doesnt trust us. So in our computers there are some programs for monitoring internet activity. For example ActyMac DutyWatch – for recording logs and traffic’s usage.But we know about it and try dont do our own business at the work.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s