Employees should be encouraged to use social media

Over the past few years, the use of social media has increased dramatically. It is now the norm for people of all ages to use some form of social media, whether it be Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Indeed, Facebook claims to have over 900 million monthly active users, and Twitter now has 10 million active users in the UK alone, with 140 million worldwide.

We are often hearing about the positive benefits of social media from a personnel point of view – how it helps people to find new jobs, how it helps people to stay in touch easily – with the HR community often championing it as a tool for business.

But, despite this, people still feel nervous about using it in the workplace, with many feeling it is best used for leisure purposes only. There is a tendency to focus on the potentially negative aspects, rather than the benefits that can be derived from using it effectively at work. So why is there such a disconnect between the people who want employees to embrace social media, and the employees themselves?

Katie Ivie

Katie Ivie, Kelly Services.

In some cases, social media can cause issues if employees are spending too much time on it at work. But is this really such an issue as people think?

Each year at Kelly Services, we carry out a survey of almost 170,000 employees in 30 different countries, including more than 3,500 people in the UK. This is our Kelly Global Workforce Index (KGWI) – our barometer that shows what employees are feeling – whether they want more benefits, want to move jobs, or are happy in their workplace. We asked these employees about their use of social media in the workplace and they told us some interesting things, with the main theme being that they are very nervous about using it at work.

Our findings revealed that as many as 44% of UK employees feel that social media is having a negative effect on workplace productivity. But do employers see this as such a problem? Do many instruct employees not to use social media at work? We found that when questioned, only 6% of employees in the UK said that they had been warned about using social media in the workplace by their organisation – suggesting that employers can see potential benefits in their workforce being able to access social media during working hours.

But this isn’t the only reason for nervousness amongst employees. Many are worried about sharing opinions online about work, with 73% of UK employees saying that it is not appropriate to do so. Interestingly, this implies that employees have an automatic tendency to assume that any opinions shared online would contain a negative reference – rather than a positive mention about their employer or work environment, thereby promoting the employer brand. The nervousness that some people feel is in part due to a mistrust of the online space as a forum for open and free discussion. To further emphasise this point, our findings have also shown that people worry that mixing professional and personal connections online could cause issues at work. It suggests a concern at the way public and private identities are rapidly intermingling as a result of the increasing use of social media.

Earlier this year, we revealed research from the KGWI that highlighted that employees across the UK are disengaged, with fewer than half happy at work, and more than one-third frequently thinking about quitting. Therefore it is important for UK employers to utilise social media more effectively as a tool to showcase their employer brand, and develop their profile to encourage talented people to want to work for them, while also helping existing employees emotionally engage with their company. We found that as many as 30% of employees believed that it was important that their employer had a social media presence – demonstrating a clear value in investing in this channel of communication. Such a trend is only likely to increase as people adopt social media in a bid to develop their own personal brand to stand out from their peers.

It is clear from our findings that employers are not fully exploiting the opportunities offered to them by social media, but whether this is as a result of lack of resource, strategy or buy-in at board level is unclear. What is clear, however, with as many as one-third of employees telling us they were more likely to use social media than traditional methods to search for jobs, is that social media should be an integral part of all recruitment, retention and engagement strategies.

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