It’s hard to escape technology in today’s world, and it’s even harder to escape it in today’s workplace. Cell phones, computers, and the internet have revolutionized the way many companies do business, allowing for fast communication and instant access to information. Unfortunately, though, many companies are experiencing as many of technology’s drawbacks as its benefits. One such drawback, an issue for which employers are constantly searching for solutions, is employees’ use of Facebook, cell phones, and personal email on company time.
It seems like common sense to assume that Facebook and text messages are a productivity drain, so many employers and managers make that assumption without a second thought. The fact is, though, that this type of thinking is outdated, and the research indicates that exactly the opposite is true. According to the influential study conducted by Dr. Brent Coker of the University of Melbourne, internet use at work absolutely does not decrease productivity. In fact, those employees who accessed Facebook periodically throughout the workday actually showed a 9 percent increase in their productivity levels. Obviously, this trend is only true as long as the employees keep their internet use within a reasonable limit, which the researchers determined to be 20 percent of the workday, a percentage so high that very few employees would have trouble staying within the limit.
How could this be true? Traditional wisdom predicts that more Facebook and texting would equate to less productivity, but actually, the results are quite easy to explain. Facebook, internet use, and cell phones provide a small mental break for employees, a short distraction from the monotony of the work day. Science has long known that periodic mental breaks that require little to no real concentration tend to result in significant improvements in employees’ performance levels, and technology provides the perfect medium for the type of short distractions that employees need to recharge.
What’s more, socialization (in this case, in the form of Facebooking, emails, and texting) has been proven to stimulate the brain, thus improving performance. Socialization activates the centers in the brain responsible for learning, decision-making, and long term memory, all of which can help employees be more productive.
Finally, the fact is, most employees (especially younger ones) aren’t distracted by technology to the extent that most employers fear. Evidence is mounting to prove that cell phones, email, and Facebook have become such an integral part of young individuals’ lives that multitasking with these things has become second nature to them. Because young people are so completely accustomed to texting and social networking, their productivity tends not to be impacted at all by incorporating these things into their workday.
It’s understandable if you should doubt the validity of these claims, especially if you’ve witnessed first hand how much time some of your employees waste on the internet. You need to realize, though, that most employees are capable of texting occasionally and checking Facebook two or three times a day while still completing all of their work on time and to your expectations. In many cases, when employees are wasting time, technology is not to blame: The irresponsible employee is. Unproductive employees did not come about as a result of technology, and they’re unlikely to disappear if you ban it. Banning cell phones and restricting internet use generally has a positive effect on productivity for only the short period of time immediately after the ban takes place. Once irresponsible employees notice that you’ve slipped back into routine and have stopped watching them as closely, they’ll go back to taking long water cooler breaks, napping at their desks, circumnavigating your internet regulation software, twiddling their thumbs, or doing whatever they can to avoid doing actual work. Bad employees will exist with or without Facebook, so eliminate the real problem instead of punishing your good employees with a company-wide ban.
Most often, simply coaching your employees on your expectations for productivity should solve any problems that could arise due to internet or cell phone use. Outline clearly for your employees what you expect in terms of output and time spent on personal technology use, and make sure they understand the consequences for breaking your rules. If this doesn’t work, then perhaps there is a deeper issue that needs to be addressed within your company. Perhaps your employees’ workload is too large or small, causing them to turn to technology for a distraction, or perhaps, as much as you might hate to admit it, you misjudged an employee’s work ethic during the hiring process.
The bottom line is mature and responsible employees (the only kind worth having) will not abuse their internet, social networking, or cell phone privileges. Therefore, occasional use of these technologies should not amount to much of a problem at all.