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Managing people

Social Media: Staff Usage Should Be Monitored, Not Banned

Social media should be monitored, not banned: Experts

By Michelle Hammond
Thursday, 05 May 2011

A new study reveals the average Australian worker spends up to 60 minutes a day browsing online for personal reasons but experts say employers shouldn’t ban social media usage in the workplace.


A joint study, conducted by Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology and online security company MailGuard, measured the internet usage of 50,000 people over a six-month period.


According to the study, workers spend an average of between 30 to 60 minutes online for personal reasons every day, while the heaviest users spend up to two hours online.


In addition to social media sites, personal internet usage included workers viewing news, sport, weather and transport timetables, while online shopping is also on the rise.


Only 20% of those surveyed are classified as “heavy explorers”, exceeding a baseline of “normal” activity set at 200 websites a month. It’s at this level that staff productivity is considered to deteriorate.


MailGuard chief executive Craig McDonald says employers can rest assured that most people are doing the right thing, labelling heavy explorers as the exception rather than the rule.


Rajesh Vasa, a Swinburne University lecturer in the Faculty of Information and Communication Technologies, says users typically glance at social media sites for a few seconds at a time.


Vasa says workers are spending their personal browsing time engaging in normal workplace activities, namely socialising.


“This behaviour has migrated to an online medium... It’s the same behaviour – just online,” he says.


Vasa says a lot of workers identified as heavy explorers held less important positions, such as temps, who don’t always have a large workload anyway.


McDonald says rather than introduce a “blanket policy”, whereby the use of social media sites is completely banned, employers should discuss excessive use with their staff.


“It’s a much better option to talk to someone personally rather than turn it off and have that culture in your [workplace],” he says.


“Ask yourself, how do you harness the experiences of heavy explorers who also achieve high productivity for the benefit of the business?”


“It’s about working smartly in the new terrain, rather than banning social media and frustrating some of your best performers because one or two employees are misusing Facebook.”


According to McDonald, a growing number of employers are monitoring what proportion of the working day individuals spend browsing online for personal reasons.


Vasa is also developing a self-regulation tool, which tells staff when their internet use changes.


“A red light will blink to alert you and then you have the option of looking at a graph to see how your usage has changed,” he says.


“'It’s about informing you where you stand in relation to other people rather than a manager having to come over and talk to you about it.”

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