Back to blog
Office Freedom
Office Freedom
  • 2 Minute Read
  • 19th November 2009

A new wave of employers banning facebook from the workplace

Are you a Facebook fan? Are you aware of the current controversy regarding employers considering banning Facebook and other social networking sites from the workplace?

The recent surge of the Facebook population and its potential threat to business must necessarily be viewed from two points of view: From the employer's side and the employee's perspective. Polls and surveys taken recently have established a wide gulf between the two opinions.

With 3.3 million registered users in the UK, Facebook is the dominant social networking site. It has wide name recognition and deep penetration, with the second-largest overall user base in the world: 19,346,100 users from a total population of 60 million. This makes the UK second only to the US for total users, and significantly deeper penetration; the UK having an astounding 33% of the population registered with Facebook. The majority of users are aged between 16 and 24. (Source: September 7, 2009 Facebook statistical analysis by Nick Gonzalez, a web analyst specializing in social media.)

Given the statistical data, there is no apparent slowdown of Facebook penetration in sight and the younger users are the workforce of the future. The trend would appear to be that as the older workforce is replaced, or the company grows, a significantly larger percentage of replacement workers will be Facebook users. In order to maintain the same level of productivity in the workplace, it appears some restriction of Facebook will be required. Just as cell phones and texting have been outlawed on motorways because of their distracting nature, the same argument is valid with social networking at the employee's desk.

An astounding survey by the IT firm Telindus earlier this year indicated up to 39% of employees aged 18-24 would consider leaving their jobs if they were denied access to social networks. If only half that many actually left, a 20% hit in the workplace would be devastating.

The largest concentrations are in the high population urban areas and represent more than 25% of Facebook users in the UK. The cities include Manchester with 2 million, London with 1.9 million and Birmingham with 1.2 million.

Another recent survey taken in Ireland – with nearly 1 million users – where more than 50% of the workers admit they engage in social networking – revealed 63% of the businesses found social networks “a nuisance.” One of the main features of Facebook are the worldwide interactive games, carefully engineered to promote the quality known as “stickiness” – ensuring the user stays on the Facebook site. Most of the games involve having to perform certain game-related tasks at appointed times or within a certain time frame. June 2009 Nielsen ratings show Facebook users average 4 hours, 39 minutes per month worldwide. This is a 37% increase in stickiness from the previous month.

Aside from the potential of a mass exodus of younger workers from the office, those remaining would clearly be annoyed by what might be perceived as heavy-handedness by management. Further, disallowing some activity only tends to drive the activity underground. Also, building a fire wall to preclude access may have unintended consequences which directly impact the business. It is a non-trivial IT task to effectively fence portions of the internet. The cost of banning Facebook may be higher than the amount of time lost to Facebook-using employees.

If employees are happier and more productive with reasonable access to the social networks and the internet in general, then that should be a positive aspect. If employees have a clause in their employment contract specifying a certain percentage of time during working hours can be used for social networking – much as a tea break is – then compliance becomes a carrot for the employer. Going over the limit could be viewed as the stick with a potential of strong disciplinary action. Measuring the amount of time spent on Facebook is a fairly routine IT task and it is probably already being logged now.

Current statistics indicate even more growth of Facebook and similar social networks than expected or predicted. Do you consider the amount of time spent on social networking in the workplace as a potential threat or as an encouraging aid to productivity? What's your opinion?