Here’s a semi-rhetorical question: Is there a connection between employers that want their employees to remain permanently accessible and employers that deny employees access to social media during working hours?
To a casual observer, it might appear that time management has fallen to the wayside at many workplaces today: employees work well beyond their scheduled hours, including while on lunch breaks, during leisure time and social events and even on vacation. And online social networking has entered the scene either to distract employees and drive down productivity or to empower employees and connect them to more and better professional and personal opportunities, depending on whom you ask. But with proper scheduling, time management should prevent work from expanding beyond regular work hours—as was the case before the Internet age. Instead, in the “knowledge economy,” where the smart phone rules, scheduled work hours have become nearly meaningless.
(Obviously, this applies only to workplaces where employees have the flexibility to perform work outside of the confines of office and hours.)
Here are two non-rhetorical questions: Is this a fatal failure of time management at work? Or have we simply entered a new era of labour in which time management has expanded to include leisure time?
In either case, social media have confused the issue, and employers might be using the social web as a scapegoat to cover up their or their employees’ time management failings.
Institutional vs. personal time management
If it’s a simple failure of workplace time management, then scheduling employees’ work appropriately and also providing employees with appropriate work should discourage workers from spending their time on personal distractions. The presence of social media in the workplace should not get in the way of a good employee’s duties, but poor time management could easily drag down even the most productive worker. Anyone who uses a smart phone for work implicitly understands and acknowledges that this model is on the way out.
If we’ve adopted a new mode of work—one that extends beyond 9–5—then employers will have to start judging employees’ work by the goals they achieve rather than the hours that they work. This is the foundation of the flexible work model, and almost anyone under the age of 30 believes that it’s the way of the future (and the now). Especially in cases where employers ask or require that employees make themselves available via email or phone outside of regular work hours—in other words, infringing on the employees’ personal time—it seems unfair to prevent those workers from using a bit of their regular workday to access social media, either for personal or professional uses.
I think it’s pretty clear that we’re in transition, and eventually, we’ll end up somewhere between these ideals of institutional time management and personal time management. In the meantime, employers have to ask themselves what their priorities are and how they themselves have contributed to this situation.
Look out for my follow-up post in the next few days for some insights into what social media mean for workflow.
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor