Can Social Media Boost Employee Productivity?

Sounds like a silly question, right? If you were to pluck 10 people off the street and ask them the same question, 90% would likely say ‘no’. Usually when people hop on social media, there are a number of reasons why: Maybe you’re bored. Maybe you’re procrastinating on an important project. Maybe you’re just trying to kill some time. But how often do you positively associate “social media” with “productivity”? I’ve worked at a number of jobs in the past where social media was forbidden at work. It was (and generally still is) assumed that if you’re on social media at work, you’re not doing anything productive, especially for your employer.

Surprisingly enough, that narrative is slowly but surely starting to change. Businesses and employers are starting to see that social media can add real value to productivity in the workplace. But how? How can social media, a notorious time killer, boost productivity? According to Pew Center researcher Kenneth Olmstead and University of Michigan School of Information professors Cliff Lampe and Nicole Ellison, “today’s workers incorporate social media into a wide range of activities while on the job. Some of these activities are explicitly professional or job-related, while others are more personal in nature.” In their study, they surveyed full-time and part-time American employees and found a number of different reasons they use social media at work:

  • 34% ever use social media while at work to take a mental break from their job

  • 27% to connect with friends and family while at work

  • 24% to make or support professional connections

  • 20% to get information that helps them solve problems at work

  • 17% to build or strengthen personal relationships with coworkers

  • 17% to learn about someone they work with

  • 12% to ask work-related questions of people outside their organization

  • 12% to ask such questions of people inside their organization

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While a smaller percentage stated they use it for more personal use, such as connecting with friends and family, it was discovered that a surprisingly large percentage of the employees used social media for more work-related activities, such as connecting with colleagues and looking for answers to work-related questions.

Of course, we have to look into the number one reason employees use social media at work: Taking a mental break from their job. Some employers may see this as an unacceptable excuse, but it’s important to note that a study in the science journal Cognition has shown that “even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.” The results from this study were consistent with the idea that “the brain is built to detect and respond to change and suggests that prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance.” Allowing employees to take short mental breaks from work can give them a refreshed boost in productivity.

Whatever way you look at it, social media can actually have advantages when it comes to productivity, as long as it’s used in moderation. I will say that having employees spend their whole shift messing around on social media definitely has its downfalls, especially if it keeps the employee from completing their work. However, if your employees are doing their job and doing it well, giving them some time to play around on social media and break away from the stresses of work can be more helpful than hurtful to productivity.

Mindy Lee
Advisor/Marketing Coordinator
Washburn University
America’s SBDC

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