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Should managers be worried about the amount of time spent on social media?

It's hard to think of a bigger change in the workplace over the last 10 years than the arrival of social networking sites. Their rapid rise in prevalence and importance is changing the nature of work and how it balances with our private lives. The use of social media at work presents new opportunities to employers, but also new responsibilities. One is how to manage the amount of time spent using the sites.

Employees spend on average 1.5 hours a day on social media sites, according to a recent survey. The survey of more than 1000 UK employees, carried out by VoucherCodesPro, discovered that respondents spent more time on social media at work than at home.

The reaction of some might be to ban social network media from the workplace, and research shows that about a third of British businesses have done exactly that. However, they may be losing much more than they gain by doing so.

New technologies are collapsing the boundaries between work and home. It's commonplace now for employees to make a few phone calls while commuting home and perhaps field some emails in the evening. UK employees are already working some of the longest hours in Europe and putting in on average 9.1 hours of unpaid overtime a week, according to another survey. Just as work is permeating into our private lives, the same is happening in reverse.

But it would be a mistake to think that social networking sites are always being used at work for personal reasons. Organisations are diverting big resources into social media, aware of the enormous potential for promotion and publicity. It's not unusual for employees to carry out work tasks on the same social networks that they use in their private lives.

Many employees give direct benefits to businesses through enhanced communication, publicity and networking facilitated by social media. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have widely been found to be effective ways of building up strengthening relationships with clients or customers.

One problem for employers is that it's not straightforward working out how much time is spent on social networks for work and for personal use. Tight restrictions or monitoring of social media use is likely to cause tensions with staff, particularly for younger employees. Research has shown that 55 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds see social networking as an 'entitlement' and almost half wouldn't work for a company that banned its use.

If managers check on employees' use of the internet and social media, it's important they make it clear what they scrutinise and why.

A common-sense approach whereby an organisation develops a coherent social media usage policy with employees may be the best line to take. As the speed of technological change is so great, employers need to regularly revisit policies to reflect the way people interact and work using social media.

Acas have produced a guide to help organisations with Social media and how to develop a policy, as well as a range of fact-sheets offering practical tips on how to manage the impact of  Social media in the workplace.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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