Over the last several years organizations have become increasingly dependent on the Internet as they conduct business. While tech clearly offers a significant level of benefit, it doesn't come without issues. One of the problems that has cropped up over the years is employees spending too much time using the Internet, taking away from work hours.
As the Internet grew in prominence social media entered the picture, which created a new set of problems for businesses. This is one trend that has been moving non-stop at full speed. Some statistics suggest too much employee time is spent on social networking websites when they should be working. Ultimately, this impacts organizations in a negative fashion in many ways. As a result, over the past five years more employers have been taking action and blocking access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social websites.
In 2011 Ragan's PR Daily reported Clearswift, a software security company, said 9 percent of companies indicated they had blocked social network sites in the previous year, but in 2011 the figure had jumped up to 19 percent. 1 Fast-forward a bit to 2012 and 29 percent of employers blocked social media. Today, depending on what report you read, anywhere from 36 to 50 percent of employers say they block employees from accessing social websites. Some block all social media, others focus on specific networks. According to one statistic, just 43 percent of employers allow free access. 2, 3
So why the uptick in blocking all or some segments of the social web?
Decrease Security Risks
Social media, while a good tool, unfortunately also opens the door to increased security risks. With malware persisting on various networks, this can create significant problems. Additionally, employees may intentionally, or unintentionally, share work-related information that should not be distributed; this can create legal issues or competitive losses. According to a Workplace Answers piece, a 2014 survey found 80 percent of managers found misuse of confidential information to be a highly growing concern. 2
Data breaches and potential loss of business continuity are also oft-cited concerns.
Ensure Business Continuity
The Clearswift survey illuminated that high profile hacking incidents, such as the massive Sony data breach, caused a large disruption in operations. And you figure, so many other large data breaches have occurred since that time. Employers are concerned their employees might accidentally leak data or be fooled into downloading malware, which could crash and/or compromise networks. By blocking social networks, managerial decision-makers can add a layer of protection to ensure business is not disrupted due to mishaps created by social media use.
Decrease Risk of Data Breaches
As with anything on the web, there is a risk of a data breach occurring, and social media is no exception. In this respect, there is a real risk here, as Facebook and Twitter both have numerous scams that have been awfully convincing. Each time one is released on either network, many users are tricked into falling for these scams (some of them have gone "viral"). As malware is often launched on social media, curious people who click links, download files and/or run scripts in their browsers open up their organizations to potential data breaches if a hacker gains access to systems.
Scale Back on Productivity Losses
In addition to the security-related issues, many managers are likely looking at the value of blocking social websites from a business perspective too. Social media, while useful and enjoyable, can become a huge time waster if self-monitoring does not occur. It is not uncommon to find people on Facebook commenting on their status updates how they should be working instead of catching up the network or playing games on Facebook; others may be busy sending out and/or reading tweets on Twitter. Some statistics suggest employees use social media for an hour per day total (bouncing back and forth between windows, disrupting workflow) and is the second biggest time waster in the workplace (second to news websites).
According to a 2012 Forbes piece, social media was cited to be a huge time waster for employees during work hours, keeping staff off-task. 5 Managers who find work is not getting done in a timely fashion while employees favor social networks on company time are going to take issue, and blocking social websites is perceived as a way to redirect employees back to task.
[ Related Reading: What is Cyberloafing and How Does it Affect the Workplace? ]
Today the line between work and personal life often becomes blurred, and people who associate their jobs with their social network profiles present themselves as representatives of the company, especially if they are logging on during company time for non-work purposes. If a gaffe or other mea culpa by an employee occurs on Facebook, Twitter, or another social network, this can paint the organization in a negative light, tainting the brand. Then you also have situations where employees do stupid things while working (i.e. tampering with food) and send it out into cyberspace in attempts to be funny or go viral. Whatever the case, it badly reflects on a brand. Depending on the comment or activity, it could even create legal hassles for an organization. In the aforementioned 2014 survey, 71 percent of employers were concerned employees would misrepresent the views of the business. 2
Employer-blocked access to social media is an increasing trend, along with prohibited access to e-commerce websites. From the business perspective, blocking access to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites may not be a bad idea, but this really likely depends on the organizational environment. The Internet has become such a central part of today's lifestyle. However, doing so might cause discontent among employees, which is another factor employers should consider, as some people do know how to effectively balance time.
Additionally, there are many arguments supporting why employees should have social media access from work. These range from it gives staff a breather where they can relax for a few minutes and, as a result, become more productive to being able to create "brand champions" internally from the organization, creating a positive way to gain more exposure.
Bottom line, employers should weigh both the costs and benefits to make sure the advantages outweigh the drawbacks before creating a blocking policy for social media.