Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Banning social media at work short-sighted

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I've been at my office desk for about three hours. My hands are twitching; my fingers are trying not to act on muscle memory. Soon, the nerves will start. Did I miss something? What is everyone doing? I'm going through withdrawal.

No, I'm not a drug addict -- I'm addicted to social media. But to develop better work habits, I'm trying to stay away from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. In many workplaces, employees are strictly forbidden from going to these sites on company time.

I hope to enter the workforce full-time in about three months, but the idea of working eight hours straight without Facebook horrifies me. My generation is dependent on social media. My friends and classmates can't make plans without a Facebook invitation, couldn't be in public without checking in on Foursquare and probably wouldn't be able to find a date without OkCupid.

There's no off switch -- especially not in the middle of the day.

LearnStuff.com, an educational website, projected that U.S. employers lose as much as $650 billion in productivity annually from employees using social media during work. That number is hard to verify, but the logic is that if employees are surfing the web, their work is not being done. And some companies appear to be doing something about it. A spring 2012 survey of 3,200 people by careers website Salary.com found that 30 per cent of participants said their employers restrict their Internet access at work.

Those who restrict access are overreacting. This is my generation's version of a cigarette break. Getting a quick hit of the trending hashtags on Twitter or checking Facebook status updates calms younger workers' anxiety over missing something important from online friends, even if it's only photos of what they're having for lunch.

OK, so not everything's actually important. And some friends waste their time on social networks. No one cares if you woke up 20 minutes ago and are still staring at the ceiling. After reading 10 posts like that, know what's trending? #YoureSoAnnoying.

But forcing employees to go cold turkey from social media at work probably isn't the smartest policy, especially when employees are expected to answer emails and remain on call after they leave the office. As the structure of the workday changes, employers should be willing to adapt.

A study conducted by the University of Melbourne (Australia) presented in 2010 at the International Strategic Management Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, found 70 per cent of people who were allowed to browse the web on sites unrelated to work, use social media and watch videos for up to 20 per cent of each workday, increased their overall productivity by nine per cent.

Brent Coker of Melbourne's department of management and marketing conducted the research and concluded, "Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enables the mind to reset itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day's work, and as a result, increased productivity."

Using social media isn't just about posting pictures of your lunch. Used properly, social media give users the ability to share and discover information. My generation knows this, and the rest of the world is catching on. Like it or not, social media will only expand from here. If the job is getting done on time and well, what's wrong with a few arbitrary tweets along the way?

Alexa Gorman, a senior studying journalism at Stony Brook University, is an intern for Newsday Opinion.

-- Newsday

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2013 A15

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