Social Networking at Work Is a Major Risk with Large Costs

Active social networkers (ASNs), employees who spend at least 30 percent of their workday connected to one or more social networks, represent 10 percent of the workforce. ASNs are younger: Workers younger than thirty make up only 26 percent of the total workforce but represent about 47 percent of ASNs. Workers older than forty-five make up 43 percent of the total workforce but only 13 percent of ASNs.
 
ASNs include more members of middle management and first-line supervisors (71 percent) than the workforce as a whole. Again, employees who are more likely to be ASNs include males, workers in publicly traded companies, workers between the ages of thirty and forty-four, workers with some college or a technical degree, workers with three to five years' tenure, employees who intend to stay one to two years, employees who intend to stay three to five years, middle managers, first-line supervisors, members of unions, and salaried employees.
 
According to the NBES-SN, "Nearly three out of four social networkers (72 percent) say they spend at least some time on their social networks during every workday, and almost three in ten (28 percent) say such activity adds up to an hour or more of each day they spend at work." More than a quarter (27 percent) of ASNs check a social network about every hour. Well over half (61 percent) of all hourly employees  who should be paid only for time spent working  say that none of the time they spend on social networking is related to work.
 
In fact, survey participants report that very little of the workday spent online is work related. One-third (33 percent) of those who spend an hour or more of the workday on social networking say that none of the activity is related to work. Another 28 percent say just a small fraction (10 percent) of their time online has something to do with their job. Just 14 percent confine their social network use to their lunch period or other unpaid time, meaning that employers are paying considerable sums for ostensible work time spent on personal matters.
 
While many employees report only passive use of social networks to "connect" or "consume," more than half (55 percent) are "creators" who post commentary, write blog posts, or otherwise share their thoughts, including those about work-related issues.
 
This is particularly true of ASNs, who are unusually vulnerable to risks relating to ethical issues since far more of them consider many questionable disclosures to be more acceptable than do other social networkers: 60 percent of ASNs are likely to comment if their company is in the news, 53 percent mention work projects once per week or more, 42 percent believe it's okay to post about their job if the company isn't named, 36 percent mention clients once or more per week, 35 percent mention management once or more per week, and 34 percent mention coworkers once or more per week.
 
The propensity of ASNs to broadcast information otherwise considered confidential poses significant risks to all organizations. According to the NBES-SN, "Management must assume that anything that happens at work; any new policy, product, or problem; could become publicly known at almost any time."
 
That isn't to say that ASNs only represent a risk to an organization  they're also more likely to witness and report wrongdoing. In "Ethics and Social Media: Where Should You Draw The Line?" Dr. Patricia J. Harned, president of ERC, told Sharlyn Lauby, "You could also look at another set of our responses  particularly the high number of active social networkers who reported misconduct  and say that social networkers behaved appropriately." And when they report misconduct, they experience retaliation more frequently than their colleagues. The survey states, "A majority (56 percent) of ASNs who reported the misdeeds they witnessed experienced retaliation as a result, compared to fewer than one in five (18 percent) of other employee groups."

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