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Are social media and work at cross purposes?

Are tweeting and facebooking at work a distraction or a productivity boost?

By Karen Datko Dec 8, 2009 2:37PM

Rainy-Day Saver tackled a good issue: Are people wasting too much work time on social media, or are they so adept at multitasking that tweeting and texting don’t detract from their performance -- or are they even a plus?

Call us old or old-fashioned, but we think multitasking is highly over-rated. But research on this issue has produced seemingly contradictory results.


At Psychology Today's Wired for Success blog, Ray B. Williams examined some of these studies.

A Nucleus Research study this summer “concluded that companies who allowed employees to access their Facebook site during work hours could expect to see total office productivity decline by an average of only 1.5%,” he wrote. That’s not too bad.


University of Melbourne researchers in Australia had even better news for anxious employers: "People who do surf the Internet for fun at work -- within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office -- are more productive by about 9% than those who don't," said researcher Brent Coker, who also warned about Internet addiction. It appears that "reasonable" use gives workers' minds a break.


Add the immediacy of texting and tweeting, and all of this connectivity can sound overwhelming to some.

Not to Nicole Canfora Lupo, the 30-something blogger at Rainy-Day Saver. “My generation -- and the ones after -- have grown up learning to multitask. First, it was the computer itself, and e-mail. Then, with the advent of the cell phone, texting and PDAs, it became even more ingrained in our lives,” she wrote.


But she admits that social media are both a blessing and a potential curse in her work life. She uses sites like Twitter and Facebook to discuss ideas and find writing assignments. But when it’s time to do the actual work, she turns them off.


“Social networking tends to kill my productivity, despite my usually excellent ability to multitask,” she said. “I suppose I get distracted easily.”


We wonder, can employers successfully restrict their workers’ use of Twitter, texting, etc.? Would they even want to? If you can express yourself in concise bursts, e-mail seems inefficient. “Who wants to write an electronic letter and wait a whopping hour or two for a response when you can just BlackBerry someone and receive a response in seconds?” Nicole remarked.


It’s also undeniable that smart businesses are using social media successfully to connect with customers and others. “If social media is beneficial to business, why would they try to restrict its use for employees?” Williams asked.


What’s your experience? Is using social media at work a distraction, a boon for your enterprise, or both? If you work for someone else -- and aren’t a contract employee -- what rules has your boss imposed? Are the rules working out or has that ship sailed?


Some of Nicole’s readers have had to set limits for themselves.


“All personal e-mails/social-media accounts are OFF from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. I allocate one to two hours a night to catch up,” "Financial Samurai" wrote. “Social media is a productivity KILLER if you become obsessed and work full time.”


"Little House" said, “At first, I loved Facebook and Twitter. But then I found that I didn't really have the time to update them. I have too many important things I need to do instead."


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