Facebook in the workplace – should it be banned?

by 30 May 2012

Debate about whether Facebook should be banned from the workplace rages on. And many HR Managers are still uncertain whether it’s a policy worth implementing - or even if it is possible to enforce.

Let’s explore the arguments for both sides.

Why are more companies choosing to ban Facebook at work?

The popularity of Facebook is irrefutable. In December 2010 it surpassed google.com as the most popular site on the world wide web, for the first time. Millions of us are hooked and there’s even a descriptive term coined for it - Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD).

Concerns around lost productivity generally drive management decisions to ban Facebook. It’s no surprise that they don’t want their employees spending hours on the platform, when they should be working.

Celebrity businessman and Dragons’ Den panellist Theo Paphitis banned Facebook at his workplaces and strongly advocates this move. Writing for the Daily Mail in the UK he explains,

“The explosion in online activity has resulted in an orgy of self-indulgence and exhibitionism. Businesses might have been helped by the ability to promote themselves on the internet, but they have also been hit by the web’s encouragement of time-wasting by their staff.”

Other arguments supporting the case for banning revolve around upholding brand reputation, and removing the need for staff discipline.

With users unable to access social media sites at work, management avoids the possibility of messages being sent that may dilute their brand. And if you’ve invested valuable time and money in staff training, you’ll want high retention rates, without the need to exert discipline around too much Facebook-browsing.

A blanket Facebook ban as advocated by Theo, whilst compelling, ignores the benefits that Facebook can bring to a business.

Why should you allow staff access to Facebook at work?

A blanket ban on Facebook can quickly prove a nightmare for HR managers. It can give the impression that staff are not trusted, resulting in lowered morale and resentful team members if not communicated correctly. After all, a happy workplace is a productive workplace.

Facebook may have started out as a very personal tool, not intended for corporate communication; but that line has blurred dramatically in recent years.  It now offers a number of business benefits.

It’s common for business to take advantage of Facebook’s gargantuan 800+ million user base to spread knowledge through their networks quickly, easily and at low cost; and to drive revenue generation. It can be a great way for staff to keep up with industry news. And it provides an avenue for employees to monitor useful discussions happening outside company walls.

So what’s the right decision for HR managers?

There’s no right or wrong answer!  Instead, HR managers should focus on developing an Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP) specific to their company, one designed to promote a happy and productive workplace. An AUP is, in essence, purely a set of rules that outline just how web browsing operates at the workplace.

In the majority of cases, a blanket Facebook ban does not work. The simple “allow” and “deny” functionality offered by firewalls or web security solutions is inadequate.  You cannot resolve the problem of excessive Facebook activity without sacrificing the numerous benefits offered by the platform.

Enforcing an AUP can be a difficult challenge for HR managers, but nevertheless it’s achievable with more robust technological web monitoring solutions, customised to meet the organisation’s specific needs. HR managers can choose where they want to draw the line on the Facebook issue. For instance, access can be controlled on an individual user basis, granted by department, or even be set based on times of the day (such as lunch times and after hours). Alternatively, managers might want to have Facebook accessible at all times but let their employees know their web usage is being monitored.

In this way, HR managers can ensure that their organisation reaps all the benefits Facebook can bring.  Implementing, clearly communicating, monitoring (and if necessary, being seen to enforce) an effective AUP is the balanced answer in the Facebook debate.

About the author

Rhondda King is HR/Relationships Manager at MailGuard



  • by Lucy Miles , My Girl Friday Social Media 30/05/2012 3:58:58 PM

    Social Media has replaced many traditional ways of interracting with your co-workers and or colleagues. It is a more efficient method to connect and keep in contact , especially if the work does require keeping in touch with many contacts. There are no restrictions on creativity - Large workplaces have used their own intranet , nothing stopping HR managers from launching specific facebook and twitter accounts for their workforces. HR needs to step up and move into the 21st Century..Get rid of all those control freaks in the workplace, they are a hindrance to productivity , not some worker on facebook.