The perception of social media in our workplaces has enjoyed a rather tumultuous ride over the last few years. When it first started gaining popularity, it was largely reviled by managers who were afraid that it would distract employees from their work. This would often result in access to social media sites being banned in the workplace.
The situation is not quite so bad as that these days, not least because with mobile devices, it’s pretty easy for employees to circumvent any filters IT managers may wish to construct. Indeed, some companies have actually learned to embrace social media, whether for marketing purposes or for internal uses.
This more enlightened state of affairs is supported by a host of research highlighting the benefit of social media use in the workplace. Whether it’s the productivity gains from the mental break a browse of Facebook provides, or the way enterprise social networks enable greater collaboration.
Of course, despite this array of evidence, an Altimeter report from earlier this year suggested that there are still relatively few organisations that can claim to have really embraced social media, with most drawing the line at using it as a marketing channel.
Do as I say, not what I do
A Norweigan study highlights a possible reason for this. The researchers surveyed approximately 11,000 employees, collecting information from them such as their age, educational achievements, gender and management level. They also recorded certain personality traits in each respondent.
Alongside this personality related data, the survey also asked each participant about their social media usage, their attitude towards social media and whether their employer placed any restrictions on social media at work.
The results paint a fascinating, if rather depressing picture. The further up the management hierarchy we went, the worse the attitude towards social media usage was at work. Senior managers would generally regard social media use amongst employees as a bad thing.
However, they themselves loved it, and the data revealed that executives would use social media significantly more during the work day than those lower down the organisation.
Looking beneath the data
The report didn’t go as far as to provide any detailed theories behind their data, but a number of possibilities do present themselves. For instance, perhaps employees are so accustomed to hiding their social media usage that they simply under-reported the amount of browsing they engaged in.
It could also be that senior executives are working longer hours than their subordinates, and therefore had both more time, and indeed greater need to engage with social media during work hours.
The finding may also reflect that people with a high socioeconomic status are not as afraid to lose their job as those in low-status jobs, the researchers offer. In addition, high rollers may be more interested in social media to advance their career.
Whilst these may indeed be suitably accurate reasons, what is hard to escape is the pervading view amongst executives that social media is something to be fearful of. It seems apparent that there is still a whole lot of work required to reinforce the very real commercial benefits of an organisation becoming a social business.