Social Media at Work: Implications for Productivity

A pair of researchers recently set out to examine how certain people use social media at work, and how that impacted their performance.

Their survey of individuals across various industries and jobs revealed various ways that people believe social media at work helps and harms their performance. The researchers then conducted a series of studies in developing a questionnaire for measuring social media behaviors, only one of which will be the focus for this review.

This study ultimately showed that some of the factors that were perceived to be positive behaviors, such as crowd-sourcing a problem and new customer/client outreach, did not have any significant connection to increased performance.

POSITIVE & NEGATIVE BEHAVIORS ASSOCIATED WITH SOCIAL MEDIA AT WORK

There were eight dimensions of social media behaviors identified in the study that people thought would help improve their work performance. These included communicating with existing customers, new customer/client outreach, participating in an online work community, infra-office communication, reputation management, information gathering, crowd sourcing a problem, and using social media as technical solution to a problem. Later, four factors encompassing these original eight dimensions were identified.

There were also nine harmful dimensions that the people surveyed believed would negatively affect their work performance. These included representing the organization in an unbecoming manner, plagiarism, harmful behaviors that could adversely affect one’s reputation, offensive content, multitasking, time theft (such as using social media for personal use during office hours), former unprofessional relationships with co-workers and/or customers, making disparaging comments, and refusing a friend request from co-workers (which could lead to subsequent workplace tensions). These nine factors were also mapped into 4 higher order factors that encompassed all of these elements.

 

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA & WORK PERFORMANCE

It’s not surprising to learn that the study showed harmful social media behaviors were directly related to decreased performance at work.

But what is interesting is the fact that the beneficial behaviors seemed to have no significant relationship to performance whatsoever, meaning that there may be little added value created by these actions.

The study does have its limitations. There are various industries that were not sampled that rely heavily on social media. There are also some elements of using social media at work that, while not directly responsible for increasing productivity, were tangentially related. For example, certain social media behaviors may provide stressed-out workers with a degree of relaxation, which can be related to increased performance.

 

THE STUDY’S BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS

This study fills the gap in the literature related to social media behaviors within the workplace.

The research in question can help employees realize the potential harm to their job performance that may be caused by certain behaviors they may have thought would prove beneficial. These findings could also inform social media training interventions in various work settings.

In short, some activities that may be permitted at work and are typically deemed beneficial by employers may in fact be superfluous.

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