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Social Media Use for Work: A curse or a blessing?

Consequences of Public Social Media Use for Work

Research report

This blog reports on one of my more recently published research articles. The study addresses the consequences of social media use for employees’ perceptions of work and wellbeing. Social media use in organizations has been subject of intense debate in research and practice. The social media enthusiasts (and they are legion) often applaud social media use in organization through pseudo-agadia such as ‘not being on social is actually saying you don’t want to answer the phone.’ Others argue that unwarranted or misguided social media use in organizations might cause reputational damage, productivity loss, or legal liability. But are social media good or bad for business? The answer is most likely both. But more importantly, the hype of social business often overlooks the most important part… the social part. I don’t mean the specific platforms or technologies, but the ones who are expected to use them. What are the implications of using personal social media accounts for employees’ perceptions of work and wellbeing.

 

Conflicting consequences

This study is among the first to show that social media use for work is related to employee wellbeing through conflicting processes. Their research of 421 employees identified the conflicting consequences of social media usage as advantages (i.e. accessibility and efficient communication) and disadvantages (i.e. interruptions and work–life conflict).

 

Social media adoption is outpacing our understanding

Social media is gradually appearing everywhere in the workplace and research on this topic is on the rise. Since 2013, an increasing amount of research has been published on social technology use in organizational contexts, but these studies are predominantly concerned with enterprise social media and ignore organizations use of public counterparts, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. The result is that social media adoption in organizations is outpacing our understanding of how these technologies are used. This lack of understanding is problematic as social media use by employees provides personal challenges and opportunities that might affect not only individuals but also the functioning of organizations.

 

Health issues due to work–life conflict and interruptions

The 24-hour connectedness, offered by social media, can cause work to invade employees’ personal lives. More frequently employees use public social media to stay connected, work and engage in work-related information sharing. In fact, recent findings suggest that 36.5% of the tweets sent from personally owned Twitter accounts are work-related and 48.9% of these are sent outside of regular office hours. Resolving such worklife conflict requires conscious effort that may deplete employees’ resources.

Another challenge arising from perpetual connectivity is the situation where employees can be reached anytime and anywhere. While this increased connectivity might help employees stay in touch, it can also present them with challenges that could increase interruptions at work. Generally, social media enables a build-up of unanticipated tasks produced by incoming messages, which cause interruptions. This accumulation of messages and information can drain an employees’ energy and reduce their involvement with work.

 

Motivation through accessibility and efficient communication

On the positive side, it is recognized that social media contribute to horizontal and vertical communication and knowledge sharing in organizations in a cost- and time-efficient manner. Furthermore, these positive consequences can be motivational as efficient communication and accessibility help employees achieve work goals and accomplish basic psychological needs, thereby contributing to a sense of involvement with work.

 

Scope for improvement

As a possible solution to the problem, organizations that allow or support the use of social media should focus on protecting their employees from increasing interruptions and work–life conflict. This could be achieved by offering employees additional resources to help reduce the negative consequences, e.g. implementation of work–life initiatives and digital literacy training programmes. Organizations could also actively promote guidelines and best practices for responsible use of social media in order to help employees cope with the associated demands.

 

For the full scientific research report see:

Authors Ward van Zoonen, Joost W.M. Verhoeven and Rens Vliegenthart (2017).

Understanding the consequences of public social media use for work, European Management Journal