Some commentators would have you believe that the Internet is the root of all evil. They cite the evidence produced earlier this week which shows that we are spending more hours online than ever before and that the bulk of that time is spent on social networking sites, like Facebook. What these doomsayers forget to mention, of course, is all the data which point in the opposite direction.

For instance, the most active online social networkers are the most active socially in the “real world”. Equally, the sociable people who happily chat away online are not “at home” when they are forbidden from using social networks at work. In fact, some research has shown that when you take away online social networks from people who are truly sociable, they become less productive.

Now, a new study suggests why this may be the case. The pervasive nature of online social networking now means that people value free access to these sites over and above their salary. Research on 1,600 people in the USA, the UK, Germany and France shows that staff would rather have free access to social network availability in the workplace, instead of extra cash in their salary. It is clear that the people in this research valued the use of social networks more highly than cash itself.

The message from the study is clear – you don’t have to pay your staff top dollar as long as you let them have free access to the Internet and to all the websites they want – particularly social ones. Another way of looking at the information is that if you want to ban Facebook or YouTube in the office, then the only way you can retain your staff is to pay them more than the competition. It’s either low pay rises and free web access at work, or high pay rises. The “bonus” of freely available web access is enough to compensate for lower salaries, it seems.

This ties in nicely with the research on the number of hours we are spending online. Taken together the two studies show that online social networking is now viewed as fundamental to the normal functioning of many individuals. Like it or loathe it, online social networking access is now a currency you can pay your staff with.

Social networking is so important a feature in many employees lives, that banning it or restricting Internet use at work is enough to demotivate people from working in such an environment. Besides, even if you do ban Facebook, for instance, they can access it on their mobile phones.

However, this new research points out an important factor for employers. It’s not actually about the free Internet access. It is all about trust. Restricting Internet access at work is sending out a clear message: “we don’t trust you”. It is this which is so demotivating and – coupled with a deep desire to use social networks, you can bet that big business is in for a rocky ride soon. Unless, of course, many big firms have a wholesale change in attitude to staff using the Internet however and whenever they like.

Did you see that….? Another flying pig.

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