Several months ago, I was leading a workshop on conflict management in the workplace. The session began in the wee hours of the morning and, as I logged onto the zoom call, it was clear that many of the attendees were groggy, disengaged, and in dire need of a few more hours of sleep. Many of the attendees were nose-deep in their smartphones, thumbing out Facebook messages and Tweets. It's a scene all too common in corporate America today. Social media has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, including our professional lives. As an executive, it's imperative that you recognize and appreciate that social media overuse can wreak havoc on your organization.
1. Increased risk of misuse
Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, once remarked, “Privacy is dead, and social media holds the smoking gun.” Thanks, in large part, to advancements in social media monitoring technologies and a greater awareness of social media’s proliferation in the workplace, incidents of social media misuse are on the rise. Research by Proskauer Rose LLP found that 70% of businesses reported needing to take disciplinary action against employees as a result of social media misuse. From misuse of confidential information to increased potential for defamation to heightened opportunities for workplace bullying and harassment, the negative implications of social media loom large. There's a reason that 36% of employers have banned social media use in the workplace. As an executive, it’s critical that you recognize that sanctioning social media use involves a relatively high degree of risk.
2. Decreased productivity levels
When employees are engaged in social media, they’re less engaged at work. Productivity levels tend to plummet as a result. Research revealed that employees spend an average of 2.4 hours accessing social media at work. All in all, workplace social media use is responsible for 100 hours of lost productivity per year, equivalent to approximately $2,600 per employee each year. In addition to productivity losses, social media use also impairs employees' potential for creativity and innovation and impairs their ability to learn. We’re clearly seeing what psychologists call ‘online compulsive disorder’ spill over from our personal lives to the work environment" says Yaacov Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Harmon.ie.
3. Social media use is addictive
Social media is akin to a drug in that it has similar addictive properties. Social media addiction can prove as destructive as a drug or alcohol addiction. A 2013 study leveraged MRI scans to determine that greater intensity of Facebook usage leads to increased activity in the nucleus accumbens, the brain's reward center. Similar research has revealed that compulsive social media use leads to changes in the brain comparable to those that transpire among drug addicts.
One of the most effective means of combating workplace social media addiction is via the development of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs are workplace-based initiatives designed to assist employees in overcoming social media and other addictions without significantly disrupting their work schedules. I often advise that my clients adopt, implement, and embrace a 12-step program.
From my vantage point, the most critical component of the 12-step program involves identifying the root cause of the problem. Social media addiction is often driven by a lack of engagement among employees. I wonder what would happen if, rather than blindly instituting rules, organizations would get to the root cause of the misuse and devise policies that make work more challenging and the work culture more aspirational. Through mindfulness, distraction prevention, priority mapping, and other training, a couple of my clients are now able to recognize the negative consequences of social media overuse and overcome their social media addictions.
I predict that the next American Psychiatric Association's (APA) "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) will include a disorder related to the dependence and abuse of social media, gaming, and the internet. It will be interesting to see if payers will reimburse for this national addiction.
Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of social news website Reddit, once remarked, “It takes discipline not to let social media steal your time." Many executives don't realize the extent of havoc that social media wreaks on their personal and professional lives. As the conflict management training session that I recounted above endured, many of the attendees acted in a hypocritical manner, thumbing out social media messages and then, minutes later, expressing their frustrations pertaining to employees turning to social media instead of work. What’s the toll that social media use is taking on you and your employees? As Malcolm X reminds us, “The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
I care deeply about helping leaders and advancing the human resources profession. I have authored two books, The Art of Executive Coaching and Stress-less Leadership, and maintain a regular blog. I am also a leading contributor for The Society For Human Resources Management, Entrepreneur Magazine, and The Association of Talent Development.
As an active animal advocate, I donate 100% of all book proceeds to animal welfare.
The opinions in this article are my own, and do not reflect those of my publishers or employers.