In some cases that leads to positive uses of the services -- crowd-sourcing answers, making important connections, and finding ways to solve problems. More than half of the time, however, the reasons people use social media while at the office involve non-work purposes, according to recent press release from Pew Research Center based on 2014 data.
"These digital platforms offer the potential to enhance worker productivity by fostering connections with colleagues and resources around the globe," wrote Pew's Kenneth Olmstead, Cliff Lampe, and Nicole B. Ellison. "At the same time, employers might worry that employees are using these tools for non-work purposes while on the job or engaging in speech in public venues that might reflect poorly on their organization."
What are people using social media for while at work?
It's important to note that the Pew research does not make judgments about the answers given by the 2,003 American adults in the study. That means that just because the top reasons people are using social media while at work do not apply to their job does not necessarily mean their actions cause a loss of productivity. It's possible, at least in theory, that workers' using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites replaces potentially less-productive activities like taking smoke breaks or making phone calls.
The survey, according to Pew, asked Americans who are employed full- or part-time about eight different ways they might use social media while on the job and found that, in Pew's words:
- 34% use social media while at work to take a mental break from their job
- 27% to connect with friends and family while at work
- 24% to make or support professional connections
- 20% to get information that helps them solve problems at work
- 17% to build or strengthen personal relationships with coworkers
- 17% to learn about someone they work with
- 12% to ask work-related questions of people outside their organization
- 12% to ask such questions of people inside their organization
Social media has its risks
Even though 17% of people say they are using social media to build or strengthen their relationships with co-workers and the same amount use services like Facebook and Twitter to learn more about a co-worker, that can be a double-edged sword. What you learn on the the social sites may actually make you think less of a colleague.
"Some 14% of workers have found information on social media that has improved their professional opinion of a colleague; at the same time, a similar share (16%) have found information on social media that has lowered their professional opinion of a colleague," wrote the researchers.
It's up to each business
Just over half of those surveyed (51%) said their office has rules regarding the use of social media in the office. That has some effect as workers at companies that have social media policies use those service less (30% versus 40% at companies that do not have such rules). In addition, 20% of employees at companies with social media rules say they use social media to stay connected to family and friends while on the job, compared to 35% at offices that do not regulate its use.
Of course, Pew also reported that 77% of workers surveyed said that they use social media sites while at work regardless of their company's policies. And, companies considering regulating the use of social media services should also take note that making rules about using sites like Facebook and Twitter for personal reasons can also make it less likely that employees will use them for positive, business-related reasons.
"Only 16% of workers whose companies regulate social media at work say they use social media while working to get information that's helpful to their job, compared with 25% of those whose workplaces have no such regulations," the researchers wrote.