Should employers be blocking access to Facebook?

I was speaking to journalist Dermot Corrigan the other morning about Facebook.

He was writing an article for yesterday’s Sunday Business Post on how companies have started blocking access to Facebook for their employees. This is presumably on the back of articles like the one in the Telegraph recently which claimed that:

More than two thirds of employers are banning or restricting the use of Facebook and similar sites over fears that staff are wasting time on them when they should be working

This is an unmitigated load of cobblers frankly, and raises a number of issues, namely:

  • If I’m an employer, I either trust my employees, or I don’t trust them. If I trust my employees, there is no need to block sites like Facebook. If I don’t trust my employees, blocking Facebook is the least of my problems!
  • If I am an employer I have a responsibility to monitor my employees’ productivity. If it has demonstrably dropped as a direct result of using sites like Facebook then my first step should be to review my firm’s Internet Usage policy. We DO have an Internet Usage policy, don’t we?
  • The vast majority of employees are responsible and hard-working. If they spend an hour someday on Facebook or a similar site, they will make that hour up during lunch by staying late, or by taking work home with them
  • Speaking of taking work home, as an employer have I ever impinged on my employees time outside of work hours? If so, I can hardly complain if they bring some of their personal life to work!

But, instead of thinking negatively about it, how about turning it around and asking is there a potential benefit from having employees on FaceBook? Absolutely there is.

One asset any employee brings to his/her employer is their network. Conversations in networks result (directly or indirectly) to sales leads, which, if handled properly, result in sales.

Networks build profile and trust which should again bring about an increase in sales.

Networks also help fill vacancies and networks can be leveraged to get answers to difficult questions, reducing time spent on problem solving.

The main asset a company has is its employees. By exposing employees to their peers on channels like Facebook (and blogs, podcasts, etc.) companies get to show just how good their staff are. And if the staff are impressive, the company consequently as their employer, looks good too.

Companies who block sites like Facebook do so out of fear and ignorance – these are the same companies who blocked employee access to email early on, and who blocked access to the web when it started to become popular; for the same reasons now being given for blocking social networking sites.

Eventually these companies will realise that they are losing out and will quietly roll back the ban. However, I suspect that the longer they leave it, the more likely they are to lose their best employees to more progressive companies who allow open access to social networking sites.

17 thoughts on “Should employers be blocking access to Facebook?”

  1. Whilst employers shouldn’t ban Facebook, it’s probably a good idea to lay down some ground rules about its usage…i.e., what/how much is appropriate within work hours…if employees can be trusted (a big ‘if’ in my opinion) then they need to know what is appropriate behaviour

  2. Sorry Tom, but that’s a load of crap.

    I fail to see how ‘Mary Smith is happy about the sunny day’ and sending each other crappy invitations to stupid groups or applications which turn you into a zombie are any use to any employer. That’s about the extent of Facebook’s usefulness.

    I’d restrict access to it in a flash. It’s a time waster, nothing more. In fact, I’d fire any employee I found using it. They should do it on their own time, not company time.

  3. No, not at all. Perhaps for some webby based companies it might possibly have some merit but for your average Joe who has internet access in work there’s no need to use it and brings no benefit to the company.

  4. @David – the ground rules for its usage could probably be covered by the companys Internet Usage policy. I don’t see a need for a FaceBook-specific policy.

    @Twenty – from a HR perspective, the message you are sending out to potential employees when you block FaceBook is:
    New trends = taboo at our company (we fear change)
    We don’t like the Internet
    We don’t trust you

    From a sales perspective, people put lots of personal info into their FaceBook profile – this, properly used by sales staff should greatly increase the chance of landing sales!

    Turn it around (if you want to be that paranoid employer) and if all your employees are on FaceBook, what better way to get to know them then by reading their FaceBook profiles!

    Btw LifeHacker has a post you might be interested in listing productivity apps in FaceBook so you could, in fact, use it to make your staff more productive!

  5. But most of what’s on Facebook is completely irrelevant to most companies and employees.

    If I block Facebook it means I want my employees, the ones I pay, to do whatever their work is and not fanny around on some website that’s little more than a toy.

  6. @Twenty, most of what is on YouTube is irrelevant, will you block that too?

    In fact most email and most of what is on the Internet is irrelevant, why not block those too?

    You don’t block those because you trust your employees to use them productively. Why should FaceBook be any different?

  7. Yes, I would block YouTube and personal email.

    You don’t block those because you trust your employees to use them productively

    How can any employee use YouTube productively? And if you think the majority of people are using Facebook in a way that benefits their company then I think you’re wrong.

    They use it to chat to friends and to idle time away – not to improve their work.

    Seriously, it’s 99% fluff and crap and while some people might use it to arrange a meeting or something the majority certainly do not.

  8. I’m with Tom on this on – worse case scenario, it’s healthier than fag breaks; best case, it’s another channel for building and reinforcing business networks without having to leave the office. Bad news for golf players, good news for the rest of us.

  9. …probably not a Facebook specific policy (unless the world goes more facebook crazy than it already is), but possibly an opportunity to reassess an organisation’s general internet usage policy with specific reference to social networks…I doubt that such policies are reassessed regularly, rather only in reaction to a crisis

  10. I think all companies should block access to Facebook, YouTube, personal email and, in fact, any site outside of a tightly moderated list of websited which are deemed useful to the company.

    I also think cameras should then be installed to document what happens, as I think we have all forgotten how we wasted time before the internet came along.

  11. It’s ridiculous to block facebook and other sites. I use facebook to look at pictures of my son that get posted when I am at work. Also to keep in touch with family over my lunch hour. Sure, block facebook and other such sites, if you want company morale to go way down. People deserve to have a little fun. Most of us work very hard and we should be allowed to use our breaks in whatever way we want. I work in a very stressful career field (child welfare) and used to really enjoy using my breaksto look at pictures, catch up with family and friends on facebook. Now they have taken all that away, and are sucking the life out of us. We work during our lunch hour often enough, and I don’t hear any employers complaining about that.

  12. I do agree that Facebook is a very good networking tool; however, it is very rare that that is the case. I feel that employees spending company time on Facebook is honestly a waste of assets and resources.
    Here is the official company overview from http://www.facebook.com:
    “Facebook gives people the power to share and makes the world more open and connected.

    Millions of people use Facebook everyday to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.”
    Yes, it does connect people around the world. Yes, it does provide networking opportunities. The thing is, everyone uses facebook for different reasons. Do you remember when Facebook started? Yeah, it required a college email. It gave college students across the world the chance to connect with old friends or even make new ones. Yes, this was the networking/social strength that gave Facebook the edge over any other social-networking sites. Of course, this was one thing that appealed to so many people at the time; it gave college students their own networking system. Myspace couldn’t do that, but Facebook opened their doors to the rest of the world and with it came the downfall of the sites’ original intentions.
    Yes, there might be a small percentage of people that use Facebook as a networking tool to further their careers but a majority use it for the following reasons:
    -Check one of their useless apps like honesty box or to feed their imaginary internet pet
    -Check to see if that stranger returned your un-welcomed “poke”
    -Look up photos of friends. Yes, it is very nice to see how friends are doing. Do it on your own time, not the company’s time.
    -Leave a comment on friends’ photos
    -Write on someone’s wall.
    -Just to check your profile to see if anything has changed within the last 5 minutes.
    -Look up random people and add them because they are “cute” or have “a hot profile picture.” While it would be networking if you actually talked to the person it is stalking when you just look at their pictures, you creeper.
    The list of useless time wasting things could go on-and-on, just like the list of applications and groups. Facebook might have been an acceptable networking tool 5 years ago but it is not anymore. Employers should not have to pay people because the employee wants to sit on the computer and look at peoples’ pictures instead of working and doing what they’re being paid to do.

  13. Facebook sucks, but that is not a reason to ban it, let the little people check out hot, popular, worldly and wanted they are, blah di blah di blah, let them poke and throw snowballs, come on with your bloody unhatched eggs and fun slides. I unfortunately have to have a facebook account because most of my family and aquaintances (?) deem it the only method of communication and seeing as we are so far removed from each other and a phone call would bust my weekly budget this is the option. This whole thing will wear off like an old myspace account, when I have finished my studies I plan to open a whole can of social networking worms, forget this tamagochi stuff, it is going to get a lot worse.
    Believe me, I hate Facebook already

  14. Being an IT administrator, and keeping with trends in everything technologically related, I have to say this:

    – I have personally witnessed logs of internet activity at my work where we can easily track the internet usage of any particular work computer. In various occasions we saw “spurges” of facebook.com, myspace, etc. (and other “networking” sites use) on computers where only one person uses that particular computer. The sad thing is, that charting the amount of time spent on those sites, we could easily see that over 90% spent more than 3/4 (and even MORE) of their alloted “work” time on those sites. Would you have your employees make use of the technology to suit their personal tastes and misuse of time, or to advance your work environment with productive employees, readily available for your customers calling on the phone (the later ringing all the time while employees paid to answer have their attention “fixed” on the computer browsing social sites.) What would you do?

    – Use of such sites to harass, intimidate and otherwise “follow” the actions of work partners; and a plethora of other social misconduct. In a school setting I saw evidence of many employees of the school exchanging personal photos taken at the beach of students of that school who uploaded them to the site, re-sending the photos thru the school’s email with subjects like: Hunk collection, take your pick. I believe it is VERY morally questionable that employees feel they have the liberty of doing such endeavors. Even with a written policy, who can control the actions of such “bad seed” employees?

    – Getting information from someone on FB, Myspace, etc. is just restricted to how much information that person gives about his personal life. It has NOT happened yet, but what if a stalker, serial killer, or someone with ulterior motives uses those networks as their “tool” to profile potential victims? Is there something these networks are doing to avoid/limit this potential use of their networks? None that I know of.

  15. @frankp: You like police states? Nobody will join your company. I mean, banning Facebook is one thing, but monitoring screens 24/7 just to check if people are spending 15-minute breaks on sites that aren’t directly relevant to work?

    I don’t mean to call you an authoritarian fascist, but your suggestion gives me that impression. If I’m offending you, please say so and I’ll apologize. If a company actually did that, I doubt they’d last very long. I mean, if you’re fired from a company because you spent 15 minutes on Youtube while at work, I doubt other companies would blacklist you. It’s only a problem if like 40% of your time is spent on there.

    Besides that, I don’t use Facebook and Youtube that much. So I’m “meh, could be worse” on all these rules anyway.

  16. I am currently considering the possibility of banning facebook from my company since I have noticed (as most other employers I know), a correlation with increased facebook usage and decrease in productivity, distraction and lack of focus from the total of the people that work of me. However, I would like to avoid banning facebook, and hence wondering what other options could be out there that would indirectly be steps towards limiting the time spent on it…more like a win-win, that would bring a gradual change in mentality.

    I don’t like the idea of restricting access to employees and showing them that I don’t trust them, but this is the only reasonable argument against banning facebook.

    I see the time wasted on Facebook as incremental and not a replacement to the leisure time people used to spend checking personal email or videos on youtube before FB became such a big part of everybody’s life. “Leisure” time has more than tripled now.

    I agree to the posts saying that you cannot just ask your employees to limit their time on FB and expect it to be effective in the long term, or that having a policy re: usage of social networks, personal emails etc will solve the problem. Apologies Tom, I understand what you are saying but I also think that if what you are saying works well for you, you are the exception and definitely not the rule… for whatever reason. (by the way are you working for Google? :)).

    I think the problem is more for employees that have the 9 to 5 job mentality, so at 5:01 they’re on the road, whether they had been working for 8 hours, or throwing hamburgers on each other on FB for 8 hours.. and the trick is to think whether there are ways of changing this mentality.

    So I am considering other options.. Not sure if HR work or a change in the structure of the compensation package of an employee (more incentive/bonus based rather than base salary) might do the trick. Even for non-sales people. Greater focus on performance reviews, SMART objectives, smaller base salary and higher bonus %.

    I seriously don’t care if my people are non-stop on FB, as long as they bring results. So I am wondering if any other EFFECTIVE solutions towards limiting the use of FB, apart from banning FB, have worked well for you guys.

    Cheers

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