Social Media in the Workplace – Threat or Opportunity?

social media hr

As much as traditional timekeeping offences such as absenteeism, poor timekeeping, etc is on the priority list of any business to address, there is a more silent ‘killer’ to productivity and output: ‘Present Absenteeism’.

This phenomenon alludes to the fact that an employee can be at work, however not actively participating in their work duties with due diligence and commitment. This could be because the employee has disengaged and no longer feels motivated. But another cause related to the lack of due diligence and negligence is the use of social media during working hours.

Due to the everchanging demographics of the workforce in terms of age, the ‘Connected’-

generation is becoming a majority at the workplace. These generations, referred to as “the Millennials” and Generation Z, have since a young age been connected via tablets, cell phones and laptops.

So how bad is it?

In a study performed by, South Africans ranked second in the world in terms of time spent on social media, with a typical user spending 3 hours and 41 minutes per day on social platforms.

In the same study it was found that such usages vary materially by age. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 spend the greatest amount of time using social media, at a rate almost double that of men aged 55 to 64. Statistically, the younger the generation, the more time is spent on social media.

How does this affect Companies?

The use of such social media platforms is not limited to the personal time of employees, and spills over to their work lives. Every notification must be responded to and there is a feeling of FOMO when there is a delay in being able to check the content of a notification. With the number social media platforms available now and the number of WhatsApp groups each person belongs to, the distractions are continuous.

Not only is productivity lost, but the lack of concentration leads to more mistakes being made, leading to potential dames to the company with a financial impact. In certain circumstances, the consequences can be so dire that safety of the individual or co-workers may be compromised, and can lead to injury or death.

What can be done?

The first thing that companies should realize is that employees do not have a “right” to engage on their cell phones during working hours whilst they are required to devote all of their working hours to the completion of the tasks and/or job functions. Companies should introduce policies and rules that regulate the use of social media within the workplace by:

  1. Setting up the company network access so that employees cannot connect to the network with their cell phones to prevent temptation and/or opportunity to engage on social media on company facilities.
  2. Blocking access to social media on work-issued devices, such as laptops.
  3. Not promoting work via WhatsApp groups or other means involving messaging. As much as this assists connectivity in a work sense to promote communication, it does create temptation and the opportunity for the use of social media, without the risk of being caught.
  4. Introducing a “Cell Phone Use” Policy restricting the use of cell phones whilst at work.

Whilst the content of an appropriate “Cell phone Use Policy” would be different for each industry and workplace, one for a manufacturing concern with high safety concerns could contain the following rules:

  1. Only employees who require their cell phones for business purposes are permitted to have them on during working hours.
  2. All other employees are required to ensure that their cell phones are turned off during these hours. Employees are therefore only permitted to use the cell phones during their designated break periods.
  3. An employee will be required to get written permission from management if, due to an emergency, he/she is required to have his or her cell phone on during working hours. Management will use its discretion in regard to granting permission and shall not unreasonably with hold such permission. Management may request reasonable proof of the alleged emergency prior to granting such permission.
  4. The receptionist shall take messages for employees during the workday. Should an emergency occur, the employee will be immediately informed and be permitted to either take the call or return the call.
  5. In all other cases the employee will be permitted to return the phone call (at their own expense) during the designated break times.

Despite the strict rules proposed above, it may not be appropriate in all workplaces and in all work cultures.

It is inevitable that the workplace will become more connected to achieve greater efficiency and communication. The free sharing of ideas can lead to creativity and innovation. It can build an inclusive culture and boost employee engagement. It allows employees to discuss ideas and boost organisational productivity. These positive effects should not be stifled unnecessarily in the workplace. But when it becomes destructive, and even dangerous, in the workplace, then a company should address the situation appropriately.

For more information contact Robert Niemand, Managing Director of LabourNet Eastern Cape on Regional Support: 087 292 5808 Webex: 087 756 7273 M: 082 824 7359 E: or visit LabourNet at 2 Alan Drive, Fairview, Nelson Mandela Bay

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