I have a problem with employees in my department going off task being distracted by social networking sites like facebook, twitter and IM.

The big boss is very keen to have our IT team start outright blocking these sites which are distracting people from the task at hand.

I have nothing against these sites, but they detract employees which impacts productivity.

I am kind of against the outright ban, as it will hurt those that use the sites responsibly and put a dent in morale. (Plus I'm sure they will just spend their time instead looking for away around it).

I am keen to persue an educate-feedback-performance manage framework, but this is going to take longer to be effective.

Has anyone dealt with these issues in their work place? I am interested to hear experiences, it seems many companies do block sites like these. Banning the sites just seems so archaic though.

GlennR's picture

Blocking these sites strikes me as penny wise and pound foolish. I've been around long enough to remember the debates about giving clerical staff telephones. The fear was they'd spend too much time on personal calls. Then there was the debate about giving employees access to the Internet for the same reason.

Are you sure that there's a negative impact on productivity or is that the "conventional wisdom?" I'd like to see some metrics that prove your point.

If you have a case where there is an employee spending too much time on something other than work while at work, then the normal Manager Tools resources ought to swing into action along with your corporate policies. Let's take an example where an employee spent too much time visiting with other employees. Are you going to ban co-workers from talking to each other just because a tiny minority abuse it? Or are you going to provide coaching and feedback to the guilty party?

There's another thread in the forum going on about blocking out time to read to stay current on your profession and management skills. I spend time on Twitter every day while I'm at work and at home. I've found links to books, blogs, white papers, etc that have been invaluable to me. In one case, thanks to a tweet for help, I met someone in Europe who was able to provide me with invaluable advice that saved me from implementing the wrong strategy. That not only saved us time and money, it probably saved my credibility. Just because they're using social media doesn't mean there aren't opportunities to improve job skills. (For example, MT is on Twitter and Facebook.) I "like" several organizations that increase my professional skills.

Perhaps Mark or Mike can correct me, since I know that they both graduated from West Point, but I've heard it said that there's a saying there, something about "the harder right versus the easier wrong." The easy way here is just to block the sites. But I think the better, albeit "harder" way is to create a social media policy as many organizations in all three sectors have done. That policy should clearly explain what is and isn't appropriate.

BTW, you can follow me on Twitter. I'm txglennross. (CRM, wine, gardening, customer service, cancer, puns, and anything clever.)


ashdenver's picture

Our company has pretty much "all the good stuff"  -- anything to do with gaming (including what the winning Lotto numbers are), anything to do with social networking (all blog sites, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and a slew of other sites (like YouTube.)  That said, most folks have smartphones now and can easily access those blocked sites from their phones.  The official reason for blocking these things is "preservation of bandwidth" (which was apparently spiked during Obama's inauguration.)  

Anyway, blocking the sites will certainly preserve bandwidth but if employees are determined to slack-off at work (such as I am doing right now by posting at MT), they'll find a way to do so - even if it means twiddling their thumbs in the absence of online entertainment.

That said, as a manager, I would focus on the productivity aspect.  Personally, I don't give a fig if an employee is engaging in online gambling (so long as it's not with a company credit card!) if their work is getting done and I'm not getting negative feedback from colleagues or clients.  The way I see DRs is: they're competent professionals and if they weren't, they wouldn't have been hired / wouldn't still be working for the company.  I would trust competent professionals to manage their time accordingly and prioritize effectively.  If that means they can pop into Facebook for ten mins between meetings, so be it.  If that means they can text and IM while waiting for programs to compile or data to print, cool.  If there are productivity or service issues, THAT is something that should be addressed - also in a professional manner.  "When you spend time Facebooking instead of working on the Druckenheimer Proposal, it shows that you are not capable of effectively prioritizing and/or managing your time.  What could you do differently?"  

If there need to be repeated conversations, keep track of all of them and let things take their course.

The times when it can get a little sticky are when the employee slacks off during normal working hours, projects slide and then the employee says "I need to be paid overtime to get this project done for you!"  If there are repeated requests for overtime, then the discussion needs to become "When you consistently ask for overtime while handling the same volume as others on the team who are able to accomplish the work without overtime, it tells me that there might be a weak area that could be helped with some additional training, mentoring or a course in time management/prioritization."  

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stephenbooth_uk's picture

Blocking should, IMHO, be a last resort, other than for sites which may be illegal or contribute to a hostile work environment (jobs that involve visiting porn sites, for example, are few and far between). Twitter, and to a lesser extent, Facebook are becoming business resources. Employees are building relationships and gathering information that may help them in their job.

That said if your internet connection system supports it you should track an employees internet usage and hold them to account just as you would for use of the company phone on their desk or their company cellphone. Make it clear what is acceptable and what is not, and that they are being monitored. If possible have their weekly internet usage emailed to them automatically with a note that the same information is available to their manager. If they're achieving the goals you set them within time, quality and budget then why worry about their internet habits, if they're not then check how long they're spending online and where then challenge them on it with feedback and/or questioning as appropriate 

Where I work Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and a number of other sites are blocked from 09:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 16:30. Where there is an established business need they are unblocked on a user by user basis within those times. This mostly works, the only issue really is that LinkedIn is classified as being the same as Facebook by our Internet filter supplier so those of us who use it for research and business networking periodically have our access reviewed.  This may be a livable compromise for your situation.



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bug_girl's picture

People just don't work for 8 hours straight, period. Our brains don't work that way.
So, taking a quick break is normal and appropriate. Heck, there was a recent paper out that suggested naps radically increased productivity!

Ultimately, you want your directs to know that you trust them to do what is right, and to manage themselves as professionals.  It's part of your relationship development with them.  If they don't perform...then it's time to have this conversation.


~Bug, who is ALWAYS on Facebook whenever her boss walks in--GRR!

RichRuh's picture
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 It's fine and totally appropriate for people to take breaks.  As Bug says, "People just don't work for 8 hours straight."

However, many people respond to Facebook and especially Twitter reactively.  Their Twitter client pops up a little alert 30 times a day, and they interrupt themselves to read it.  That's much different than proactively taking a productive break every hour or so.  Mark calls it "Toast" in this excellent post from the past:

So don't ban social media, but teach your directs to use it in a non-distracting manner.

Of course, if they're not doing their work, that's another story entirely.  And if they're doing their work, and you see them on Facebook every time you walk by... well, it could be a coincidence, or it could be that they are capable of greater productivity. :-)


ken_wills's picture

Do you think the Big Boss is willing to eliminate smoke breaks?

Social media is just an online version of the smoke break (without the health implications!).


If your organization genuinely has a widespread problem with distracted employees not "doing the work at hand", the solution comes with better managers ("coaches", "supervisors" - depending on your culture).  Your instinct that banning certain websites would be a wasted effort is exactly right.  If there REALLY is a problem, get at the actual causes.  Because, as you point out, a blanket ban will just inspire more effort to get around it - which, come to think of it, is even more of a distraction.

raynjuls's picture

IT unilaterally, as part of our security policy, has banned all these sites.  I frankly don't disagree with it.  Social networking is responded to as impulsively as e-mail toast, but it adds effectively nothing to the bottom line.  If people have time for facebook @ work, then they apparently don't have enough to do.  I know that is an unpopular hardline attitude, but there is ample intra-company chit chat at most places, I'm not convinced we need to globalize it.

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stephenbooth_uk's picture

 "'First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.'" - M K Ghandi



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Davis Staedtler's picture

I agree with RICHRUH on this one. Well phrased.