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I am a member of a Linkedin group called: “Harvard Business Review – Reader’s Forum” where discussions are being held around topics that appear in HBR. One of these ongoing discussions revolves around the following questions: “Is it beneficial for a company to allow its employees to use social media at work for personal usage? Why?”

I personally not only think it is beneficial, I also think it is inevitable. Many participants, however, disagree. Today, these two comments were added to the discussion:

I strongly discourage such social networking at work, not only it creates distraction at work, it also increases the risk of information security. There are other ways to promote social networking by placing PCs outside the work zone where people can use open internet (and remember not to put chairs there : ) ).

Would you let your workers go visit family and friends and having nice time during office hours….. definitely NO……..then there is no reason we should let this culture permeate through our work culture via any other medium (social networking sites), i agree with (name taken off)… rather that barring such activities all together….. one can keep them for those leisure seconds during work….by making them a part of the leisure zone where one can one can easily curse their work and bosses…

These kinds of comments make me both sad and angry. Not because I disagree with them. It is ok to have conflicting opinions and not everybody should think like me. Moreover, I am sure that there are some circumstances, be they cultural or contextual, where my opinion might be wrong and it will be a good idea to ban social media.

What made me sad and angry is that the people who wrote these comments hold a world view that sees employees as chattel. They see employees as cogs in a machine. What I imagine them thinking to themselves as they write these comments is something like this: “We need to make sure the employees work all the time. We must be productive. If they want to ‘socialize’ they can do it in a cage. Not on our time’.

While this kind of approach might work for certain industries I believe it is not going to work for most. And if in your place of work employees have the potential to access social media , your place of work is probably in the list of places where this kind of approach is not only irrelevant, it is detrimental to the work itself.

Seth Godin wrote in his blog today:

The easiest form of management is to encourage or demand that people do more. The other translation of this phrase is to go faster.

The most important and difficult form of management (verging on leadership) is to encourage people to do better.

I agree. Better. Not faster. Not more. Not cheaper. If we want people to do better, we have to let go of the mechanisms of control designed to stimulate productivity. We have to celebrate and stimulate passion. We have to stop fearing what we don’t know. We have to treat our employees as partners, not as serfs. We have to trust them and enable them to do their work on their own terms and hold them accountable. We should respect them. The comments quoted above show disrespect for other people. And I think disrespect for other people is reason enough for me to be both sad and angry.