An extraordinary 77 per cent of employees simply ignore their company's social media policy, using Facebook, Twitter and other similar services how they wish.
That's according to Pew Research, which spoke to just over 2,000 adults in the US, and has written up its findings in a new blog post.
The stats show a complex picture of social media use at work, but one thing that does stand out is that fear of its use is largely unwarranted and may in fact improve the work environment.
The most common reason for using social media during the day is "to take a mental break from work."
For employers, that may sound like a call to arms (I'm paying them, dammit!), but the reality is that people have always needed short breaks from work during the day. It's just that they're using social media instead of hovering by the water cooler or going for a walk.
The interesting thing is what people are doing with their social media use and the impact it has on them. Although 27 per cent say they use Facebook etc to connect with friends and family – not exactly productive in a company's eyes – a surprising amount of usage directly benefits employers:
- 24% use it to maintain professional connections
- 20% use it to get information that helps them with their work
- 17% use it to strengthen relationships with co-workers
What's more, they find it a pretty effective system for improving job performance:
- 78% say it is useful for networking (and for finding new job opportunities)
- 71% say it helps them to stay in touch with others in their field
- 56% say it's good for connecting with experts
- 51% say it helps them get to know their co-workers
- 46% say it is useful for finding job-related information
In short, social media use by employees is not all cat videos, but learning information that makes them a more valuable employee.
That may not stretch to how they view co-workers however. While 23 per cent of employees aged 18-29 say they have discovered information on social media that has improved their view of a colleague, a larger number – 29 per cent – say the opposite has happened and they have seen something on social media that has caused them to view a co-worker less positively. That's millennials and over-sharing for you.
Interestingly, that flips with older workers, with those aged 50-64 saying social media has improved their view of co-workers in nine per cent of cases, and make it worse in just six per cent. Needless to say, young people use social media more.
While more than three-quarters of employees will simply ignore your company's social media policy, that doesn't mean that having one is a waste of time: in companies with a policy, 10 per cent fewer employees use social media to take a break; and 15 per cent fewer of them use it to stay in touch with friends and family.
There is a flipside however: at companies with social media policies, employees are less likely to use it to find information relevant to their jobs. Just 16 per cent as opposed to 25 per cent in those with no rules.
As with everything in life, technology can be used both constructively and pointlessly. And, as ever, it will depend on the individual. But for companies that try to control use of social media, they should face up to the fact that they may only be hurting themselves.
Plus, those employees that could do with guidance in their use of social media will probably just ignore the rules anyway. ®