Should Facebook be banned at work?

Posted by MailGuard Editor on Mar 1, 2012

The Great Facebook DebateThe debate about whether Facebook should be banned from the workplace rages on. Yet many companies are still uncertain whether it's a policy worth implementing, or not.

In 2009, a study by Robert Half Technology found 54% of US companies attempted to ban their employees from visiting Facebook. In 2010, WebRoot crunched some numbers and found that 39% of US companies were blocking access to Facebook. And in 2011, HCL Technologies estimated that 50% of UK companies were banning access to Facebook. These numbers seem to indicate that there's still no strong majority about the best way to deal with the Facebook issue.

Why do companies ban Facebook at work?

The popularity of Facebook is self evident - it surpassed as the most popular site in the US for the first time in December 2010. We live in an environment where there are a myriad of competing objects for our attention. Facebook is one such competitor and as the statistics prove, millions of us are hooked.

Many companies choose to ban Facebook at work for reasons of productivity. They fear their employees will spend hours and hours on the platform, when they should be working.

Chances are the average workplace is likely to display varying degrees of FAD (Facebook Addiction Disorder). Celebrity business entrepreneur Theo Paphitis has banned Facebook from his organisations and presented his case to the British newspaper The Daily Mail:

"The explosion in online activity has resulted in an orgy of self-indulgence and exhibitionism. Businesses might have been helped by the ability to promote themselves on the internet, but they have also been hit by the web's encouragement of time-wasting by their staff. Andy Warhol, the Sixties' American icon of pop art, once remarked that in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. The truth of his idiom has now been realised through websites like Facebook.... in which participants are led to believe that the whole world wants to hear about their every move, from buying a new pair of shoes to dressing in the morning. Narcissism has become rampant, as users wallow in the minutiae of their own banal narratives."

The issue of brand reputation is also a major concern in companies that ban Facebook. With users unable to access social media sites at work, they are limited in their ability to disseminate potentially damaging messages about their brand or workplace. It can be argued that this allows companies to control the conversation around their brand and to avoid sending out mixed messages.

An extra dimension to the case for banning Facebook comes with the issue of enforcing discipline. By banning and denying access to the site, you are effectively stopping your employees indulging in web browsing habits that require disciplinary action. This could even be seen as a clever staff retention tool. After all, if you've spent valuable time and money training your staff, you don't want to have to dismiss them for breaching your web browsing policies.

What are the effects of banning Facebook at work?

To ban or not to ban? It gets complicated. Banning Facebook with a view to increasing productivity in the workplace can have potentially adverse effects. In some instances, it can be the quickest way lose friends (staff) and alienate people. By giving the impression that you don't trust your staff, you could end up with lower morale and resentful team members.

And just denying access can backfire. If the network solution you use is simple, you can guarantee your staff will find a workaround and access the site anyway. Just Google "how to access Facebook at work" and there are a plethora of options available.

Is banning a good idea anyway?

Facebook may have started out as a very personal tool, not intended for corporate communication; but that line has blurred dramatically in recent years.

Now it's common for business to take advantage of Facebook's gargantuan 800 million plus user base to spread knowledge through their networks quickly and easily. It can be a great way for staff to keep up with industry news. And it provides an avenue for employees to monitor vital discussions happening outside company walls.

So what to do about Facebook? Is there a 'Third Way'?

OK, there are positives and negatives on each side of the debate. The problem for management is that most web security solutions only offer two options – 1) Facebook is allowed; 2) Facebook is denied.

That means it's impossible to benefit from the advantages of allowing Facebook, without risking the problems involved by banning it. And vice versa.

But it doesn't have to be this way. There are sophisticated solutions out there to give the flexibility you need in defining your own workplace web browsing policies.

First, there is the option to monitor employees' web browsing habits without banning access to specific websites. If staff members know that their web usage is being monitored, they are less likely to abuse their freedom when the boss is watching.

Second, more sophisticated and robust solutions offer employers the opportunity to define access levels that go beyond simple 'allow' and 'deny'. For example, you can grant access to your marketing team and other users who may need Facebook access as part of their role. Yes, this move has the potential to annoy other employees; but you can alleviate that headache by granting other users Facebook access during their lunch break and outside regular hours.

There is no "one-size-fits-all" answer to the question of whether or not to ban Facebook at work. But it is important to review the options at your disposal. You'll find that you can define a web browsing management policy that suits your exact business needs.

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