Two worlds have collided: the personal and the professional. The widespread use of social media by the general public is on a permanent trajectory, and it has overflowed into the workplace.
The emerging generation of workers—Generation Y—has grown up with browsers and portable technology accessible day and night. From Internet forums and blogs to social networks of every stripe, the latest wave of workers sees no need to leave tools or communication habits at home.
Even though the established cadre of workers, Generation X [born between 1964 and 1981] and the Baby Boomers [born between 1946 and 1963],have been slower to accept the personal use of social media at work, the presence of social media is something to manage, not to fear.
Social media is a primary impetus behind describing and sharing, online, the details of daily life. Now it is sparking new ways of thinking about work, doing work, and taking care of customers. For corporate organizations, it is the most potentially useful phenomenon of Information Age innovations.
This brings us to the two obvious risks in the social-professional mix: worker distraction and corporate over-reaction.
Most workers see social media as at least a personal tool, if not an actual right. Some 30 percent of the people we surveyed for our 2012 Kelly Global Workforce Index feel it’s acceptable to use social media for personal reasons at work. Yet, 47 percent worry that crossing the social-professional boundary might cause problems at work. And it goes both ways; 56 percent believe that access to their social pages is not their employers’ right.
While the majority of global companies still see social media as something they must regulate, the answer may in fact be somewhere in the middle: the use of social media in the workplace can be considered in terms of responsibility, as neither a right nor a cause for restriction.
Corporate leaders can let the collision follow an unguided course, they can look at it as a problem to tackle, or there’s the third alternative.
Smart companies can put social media to use, not fight it –because it’s a powerful way to connect people inside the company and with its stakeholders. Besides, even if you outlaw social media use on company equipment, your employees are connected through their own tools—more than one-third of the world already communicates via a smartphone.
So, if companies are concerned about countering the power of social media’s to distract employees, they must set the tone by analysis, by strategy, and by example.