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This article was published on July 12, 2014

Productivity vs. Distraction: Should you block social media at work?

Productivity vs. Distraction: Should you block social media at work?
Ilya Pozin
Story by

Ilya Pozin

Ilya Pozin is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and investor. He is the founder of Internet TV platform Pluto TV, digital marketing agency Copl Ilya Pozin is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and investor. He is the founder of Internet TV platform Pluto TV, digital marketing agency Coplex, and social greeting card company Open Me (acquired by Rowl). Named one of Inc.’s ‘30 Under 30’ entrepreneurs, Ilya also has columns appearing on Forbes, Inc., and LinkedIn

Ilya Pozin is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and investor. He is the founder of online video entertainment platform Pluto.TV, social greeting card company Open Me, and digital marketing agency Ciplex.

Social media in the workplace is a hot button topic. As more employees are reprimanded or even fired over the things they choose to post on their social channels, employers are paying more attention to what their workers are tweeting and saying.

At the same time, however, social media has skyrocketed in popularity, both in our overall culture and in the workplace.

Social’s growing influence

A recently released report by Proskaeur shows 90 percent of all companies utilize social media for business purposes. Companies are using social media to promote the organization to outside clients and customers, as well as to improve communication internally among employees and upper management. 

Social media is also gaining prominence in the hiring process. Currently, about 94 percent of recruiters are using social media as part of their hiring toolbox. This can mean anything from tweeting out job openings to looking for more information about a candidate on Facebook or LinkedIn.

In fact, a survey from CareerBuilder discovered 39 percent of companies are using social media to research job candidates during the hiring process. 

What are the problems? 

The same CareerBuilder survey discovered a whopping 43 percent of hiring managers researching candidates through social media found something negative which convinced them to overlook the candidate in question. This runs the gamut from inappropriate photos, to references of drug use, and even candidates bad mouthing former employers. 


According to Proskaeur, while social media usage by companies is increasing, employees’ access to social channels at work is decreasing. The survey found 36 percent of employers block social media at work, up from 29 percent in 2012. The amount of employers allowing workers to access all social media sites has fallen by 10 percent in one year, from 53 to 43 percent. 

One look at the headlines and it’s not hard to see why social media’s star is simultaneously rising and falling the workplace. Employees posting negative, inappropriate, or downright inflammatory content can really put their employer into hot water.

Taco Bell took heat for a picture of an employee licking taco shells, a school bus driver was fired over a Facebook post, and a California Pizza Kitchen employee was let go after tweeting complaints about a new uniform. It’s not hard to see why many employers, in an effort to cut down on embarrassing stories, decide to curtail social media posting. 

But employers might want to rethink putting the kibosh on social media. Recent studies from Evolv, Microsoft Corp and a Warck School of Business professor have all shown correlations between social media usage in the office and upticks in retention and productivity.

It turns out, a short Facebook break or a few minutes pinning away on Pinterest can help employees clear their heads and come back refreshed to tackle projects. 

In fact, a study by Millennial Branding and American Express found 69 percent of Gen Y workers feel they should be able to access social media at work without restrictions. Cutting out social media entirely might not be a good solution if you want to keep morale high and retain your best people. 

How to balance social with productivity

man tablet work

The social media conundrum probably explains why Proskaeur found social media policies can now be found in 80 percent of companies, up from 60 percent in 2012. Instead of merely getting rid of social media entirely, you need to be able to balance employees’ urge for social sharing with clear guidelines to help them understand what is acceptable to share. 

Here are a few ways to balance social media with propriety and productivity: 

Write a concrete set of guidelines

Your social media policy should be written in stone, and easily accessible for all your employees who might be confused about the ins and outs. Your social media guidelines should be an evolving document, but it also needs to be crystal clear about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior in regards to social media usage — both in and outside the office. 

Remember employees represent your company

Your employees are the public face of your company, whether your organization is a Fortune 500 or a growing startup. You need to ensure  workers are representing your company in the best light possible, which is why your company should develop a social media policy governing behavior from employees in the public eye. 

Invest in training

Bring in professionals to teach employees and managers about how to utilize social media and how to avoid abusing social power. 

Allow for brain breaks

If an employee spends 90 percent of his day on Facebook, you definitely have a productivity problem. However, a short break to check Facebook, look up a recipe on Pinterest, or engage in a conversation on Twitter might actually be the brain break your worker needs.

Before cracking down on social media sites, ask yourself whether it might be more hurtful than helpful in the long run. 

Use internal social media for collaboration

Social media isn’t just for 140 character bursts or Instagramming your lunch order. There are plenty of internal and business social media tools helping companies collaborate more quickly, and tying together workers from disparate departments and offices. 

Social media is a powerful tool is wielded correctly. Before employers hit the block button, it might be a good idea to reconsider and develop a better policy instead.

What do you think? Does your company block social media in the workplace? Share in the comments!