Believe it or not: Social Media is the new corporate welfare

How today’s workers are subsidizing their employers without even trying

If you believe the doomsayers, social media is destroying employee productivity. The average worker has 5 social media accounts and is spending between one and two hours a day cyberloafing.    This wasted time is costing corporations billions of dollars a year and is destroying shareholder value.

The problem with this theory is that it’s not actually based on fact. Sure, there is plenty of data showing that most social media postings happen during the workday and not after-hours or on weekends.    The theory unravels when you look at the actual research that relates to employee productivity such as the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.   At least in the US, there is actually an improvement in output per hour which means that in aggregate, employees are working harder and getting better results.


How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory trends? By recognizing that the “bad behavior” of social media consumption during the official workday becomes “good behavior” after-hours.   All the problems we associate with social media (its addictive nature, the need for instant gratification and around-the-clock communication) are actually a gift in disguise.

Let’s take an example we can all relate to.   You are a Project Manager with a remote team in the US, Sweden, and India.     Your developers in Bangalore are thirteen and half hours ahead of your product marketing team in Seattle which means that there is never a scenario where your team has an overlap in official work hours.    Adding Stockholm to the mix, conference calls are inconvenient for one or more groups.  The use of asynchronous desktop email builds significant time delays which could slow down individual workstreams.

Now let’s look at the same team that is using a Project Management software with online collaboration functionality that is mobile enabled.   At 10:30 AM on Monday morning a developer in India posts a question to the extended team that requires a yes or no answer.   For the team member in Seattle, it is 9:00 PM on Sunday night and she is out having dinner with friends when her smartphone buzzes.  She sees the questions and within seconds has responded.  Instant gratification.

Harvard Business Review has suggested that over-collaboration will lead to employee burnout, but in my opinion, we are witnessing the opposite phenomena.   At the time I argued that HBS had mislabeled collaboration but now I am wondering if their underlying premise is correct.

The same organizations that grudgingly accept that their employees are Liking their friends’ Facebook posts during work hours are benefiting when the same employees that are collaborating with their team members during off-hours.   The basic question is whether employees are overworked by the extension of the workday into their personal time. Some suggest that the chemical dopamine (the “love bug”) is activated by social media so it is not clear that anyone is paying a price.

As a practitioner of Collaborative Project Management, I view social media as a frenemy.   There are cases of actual addiction to social media but I these seem to be isolated and not verified by conclusive research.  I agree that the organization does not gain by employees spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook and Twitter.    But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater (please excuse the cliché):   the application of social media to Project Management enables the organization to tap into the best traits of its ambitious and conscientious team members.

Rather than the unrealistic goal of eliminating social media from the workforce, we should figure out how this phenomenon can actually accelerate project and business performance.

David Robins


David Robins is the founder and CEO of Binfire. David studied at both Cornell and MIT, and was the Director of Software Engineering at Polaroid for 11 years.


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