When does twittering at work become frittering away your employer's time -- and money? When your tweets aren't work-related. Business research firm Basex puts the productivity cost of workplace interruptions, including employee abuse and misuse of social media, at $650 billion a year. Now, some companies are fighting back.
Eliyahu Federman, senior vice president of 1SaleADay.com, a deal-a-day company in Miami that sells watches, clothing, jewelry, electronics (among other things), says he got fed up with what he calls employees' "frolicking outside the work context."
As first reported by the New York Post -- and as recounted by Federman himself in a story he subsequently wrote for the website Social Media Today -- he first tried blocking employee access to social media sites. Forbes says 42 percent of all employers have tried the same tactic to the problem of frittering by Twittering. Other employers have installed network monitoring software to keep tabs on employees' communications while at work, says Federman.
According to Nielsen/Incite's Social Media Report for 2012, Americans spent 74 billion minutes, or 20 percent of their time, on social media sites. Such networking, Federman allows, has become part of life, both on and off the company clock. Nor does he begrudge employees their impulse to socialize.
"The need to be social is a human need," he tells ABC News. Workers will do it around the water cooler, or they'll do it online. But social media sites, says Federman, make it easier than ever before. "They provide a high level of engagement -- like a cocktail party," he says. "They are designed to suck you into a vortex of social mayhem, and are designed to do that very well."
The problem with trying to block access to them, he says, is that it's become easy for employees to circumvent such blocking by using their own mobile devices. For that reason, he tells ABC News, 1SaleADay eventually gave up on blocking and tried a different approach.
Instead of trying to suppress employees' addiction to social media, the company chose to channel it.
Federman installed an in-house, employee-only social media platform called Yammer, and offered it as an alternative to Facebook. Such platforms, sometimes called enterprise social networks, have become a big business: Microsoft bought Yammer for a reported $1.2 billion last June.
Federman says the benefits of weaning workers off Facebook and onto Yammer have been dramatic. In the customer service department alone, he says, productivity has risen a little more than 48 percent. "We're getting, on average, $5 an hour more per worker in productivity," he tells ABC News. Plus, he says, morale has improved. Employees didn't like being denied access to Twitter and Facebook. Yammer gives them an alternative most of them seem to find acceptable: Their socializing is limited to fellow workers; but limited socializing is apparently better than none at all.
No matter what an employer does, workers will, of course, still stare out windows or phone their spouses or buy sweaters online. "But this is a major step in the right direction," says Federman. The difference between banning social media and rechanneling the social impulse, he says, is simple: "If you try to remove it completely, people will find a way to access it and will not be happy. Our idea was to replicate it within the company and, by doing that, to increase camaraderie."
The response Federman has gotten so far to his article -- much of it from other employers -- has been strong: As of Monday, he says he had received more than 400 tweets and more than 100 LinkedIn shares.