Employers are increasingly deciding to ban social networking sites like Facebook. Kent County Council, for instance, this week slapped a ban on using Facebook in the office. Now the TUC has joined the debate by suggesting that employers should have a policy in place about the use of social networking sites.

This morning on the BBC Radio Five Live breakfast show there was a row between one employer who thought that employees would take advantage if they were allowed access to Facebook and the TUC who said that this suggested a rather dim view of staff. Indeed, Five Live’s Nicky Campbell even said the employer sounded rather like a Victorian mill owner in terms of his attitude.

Indeed so. Research suggests that banning anything at work actually lowers productivity as a result of reduced motivation. Allowing workers complete freedom tends to raise productivity, though it also opens up businesses to potential legal problems. Anything done on a business PC is legally the responsibility of that business, so an employee who uses a company computer to write a blog which ends up libelling someone is putting their employer at risk of prosecution. Legal problems are why most employers want to control computer use at work.

However, research conducted in New York and Connecticut a couple of years ago shows us who is most likely to cause problems with overuse of Facebook and the like. The study confirmed what we knew already – that the people most likely to abuse company time are young men who are impulsive and less conscientious.

In other words, if you are an employer you don’t need a policy to cover your backs for use of social networking sites, nor do you need to ban them. The vast majority of people are sensible and actually want to work. Employers already know who is most likely to cause problems, probably because these individuals already lead to difficulties in the office. And that says more about an employer’s ability to choose the right employees in the first place.

The need for increasing numbers of employers to ban Facebook actually reveals how bad those employers are in choosing appropriate staff in the first place. It also shows how little these companies understand about the Internet and social networking. To find out more about why companies should encourage social networking in the office take a look at my latest “In Depth” article.

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