Social Media in the Workplace: Pros and Cons

Introduction

As a global trend, digitalization, has become an integral part of many spheres of life, including the business industry. The widespread use of online tools and programs to maintain the sustainability of operational processes, strategic planning, recruiting, and other tasks explains the relevance of these resources in most modern organizations. Social media are useful communications platforms that are utilized in the business environment, for instance, for conducting productive marketing campaigns. At the same time, free access to these sites in the workplace is a controversial issue that raises aspects of business ethics and causes controversial judgments about employees’ acceptability of such resources.

Decreased performance, corporate data leakages, disrupted team communication, and other risks are arguments in favor of limiting the free use of social media in the workplace. At the same time, these online platforms are indispensable for interacting with target customers, convenient data exchange, and sometimes for a mental break. Banning the use of these resources by employees limits organizations’ development opportunities and inhibits the tracking of competitors’ activities. Therefore, the use of social media in the workplace is a controversial issue and may have both positive and negative implications on the work process.

Controversial Issues of Social Media Use in the Workplace

Managers and business owners tend to pay particular attention to the ethical aspects of operating activities when there is a direct threat to performance or development. In this regard, the active introduction of social media into the business environment has become a factor that raises questions about the need to use these platforms, as well as their role in the work process. For instance, according to Rauf (2020), with the advent of online communication platforms, many operational procedures have been simplified, and the researcher mentions data exchange or communication with partners and customers. At the same time, as the author states, social media sources fragment the mode of interaction, including communication among employees in the workplace (Rauf, 2020). Colleagues interact with one other less often since many issues can be resolved by using digital platforms as convenient channels to extract the necessary data. From the perspective of the modern trend of team building, this implication is undesirable and inhibits productive teamwork.

Social media in the workplace can be both helpful and safe, but management control is imperative to avoid controversy and disagreement with subordinates. Barnes et al. (2018) cite the results of the case in which an employee of an Australian organization was fired for an open and biased post criticizing an employer on Facebook. Although, following the outcomes of the proceedings, there were no objective reasons for dismissal, this case became significant not only for this company but for the business environment as a whole. Banning the use of social media may conflict with current norms and rights related to freedom of speech and self-expression. However, as Barnes et al. (2018) remark, the described case makes it clear that employees’ behavior in a virtual space cannot be uncontrolled, at least in the workplace. Therefore, if a person is alerted to a possible organization’s policy to track inappropriate digital content on social media, this may be a rationale for restricting access to these resources. At the same time, not all employees may be satisfied with the intention of management to monitor their online activity, which preserves the existing contradictions.

The use of social media in the workplace is often associated with controversial attitudes due to the potential risks of losing important corporate data of intellectual and financial value. Many companies explain their position on the ban on the use of these virtual sites by the threat of cyberattacks and employees’ carelessness. For instance, as Labban and Bizzi (2020) remark, a survey of many hundreds of American companies showed that more than half of organizations (54%) prohibited utilizing social media in the workplace under any pretext (p. 1). These statistics prove conflicting views on the relevance of the use of digital communication resources and confirm distinctive positions regarding their role.

The assessment of attitudes and opinions about the feasibility of using social media in the workplace differs not only on the distinctive perception of these resources but also on other criteria, for instance, work status. According to the research by Song et al. (2019), ordinary employees do not see a threat to performance from virtual communication sites and perceive them both as convenient work resources and socialization and entertainment tools. These facts confirm the differences in the views of junior staff from those of executives in the study by Labban and Bizzi (2020). Moreover, Song et al. (2019) argue that the results of their research regarding the connection between social media in the workplace and team performance do not reflect a negative correlation. Each of the parties (management and subordinates) see the capabilities of media platforms distinctively due to varying degrees of responsibility. Therefore, the safety factor can be significant and may be based on employee qualifications and the ability to use social media without threatening organizations’ resource bases.

Security issues raised at the organizational level address social media as a potentially hazardous resource from a business ethics perspective. At the same time, Hajli and Lin (2016) state that any threat may be avoided, and employees can retain the right to use digital networks in the workplace due to appropriate training and software protection. Such measures can help resolve the current controversies and minimize problems caused by employees’ insufficient digital literacy. Nevertheless, the authors raise the question of whether it is ethical for the management of organizations to use social media to control subordinates or not (Hajli & Lin, 2016). Each person’s individual data, including posts on social media, can be a source of conflict, as shown in the case described by Barnes et al. (2018). Moreover, an insufficiently developed legislative framework on this theme inhibits the productive resolution of the issue of using social media in the workplace. Thus, disagreements arise due to the unpreparedness of individual employees and the inability of their managers to provide the necessary training for subordinates and ensure safe online communication.

One of the main arguments discussed in the context of the negative impact of social media in the workplace is assessing these platforms as those causing addictive behavior. In their research, Zivnuska et al. (2019) evaluate the experiences of various participants regarding their views on whether spending time on social media affects their productivity or not. After analyzing the data obtained, the authors have come to the conclusion that social media affects job productivity negatively by forming addiction among employees and distracting them from their immediate duties (Zivnuska et al., 2019). However, given digitalization as a current trend, the complete rejection of virtual sites in the workplace can be perceived as an archaic method of management. For instance, Hauser (2020) suggests paying attention to a special “social media-supported peer coaching” technique that involves engaging online platforms for training employees and providing them with access to valuable educational resources (p. 850). Thus, instead of banning, the proper control over social media in the workplace may be the right solution not only from the perspective of modern management approaches but also from the standpoint of career guidance.

Since digitalization has become an integral aspect of many business industries, the optimization of resource management is largely achieved due to modern online tools that minimize the human factor and help avoid mistakes. Although employees who spend time on social media tend to be distracted from the workflow and demonstrate poor job performance, these sites can be convenient for exchanging data and optimizing interaction within organizational structures. For instance, Stohl et al. (2017) note such an important factor as electronic document management, a procedure that allows reducing the time for exchanging files among departments and simplifying the procedure for storing information. Ignoring social media as convenient platforms for transferring data decreases the potential speed of interaction within firms’ structures, which is contrary to the modern principles of achieving competition through quick decision-making strategies and optimization tools. As a result, the controversial issue of utilizing these sites for the storage and dissemination of information is due to the practical convenience of virtual platforms in the context of their messenger function.

Building a reliable and cohesive team of professionals through relevant business practices and approaches often plays a critical role in the development of entrepreneurial projects. In this regard, employees’ work behavior is an important factor that determines the quality of communication in the team. As Carlson et al. (2016) note, excessive spending time on social media is correlated with deviant behavior, in particular, narcissism and exaggerated demands. These traits, in turn, affect team performance negatively due to individual employees’ emphasis on personal interests and benefits. At the same time, according to Carlson et al. (2016), for many workers, social media platforms are sites to raise self-esteem and get rid of depressive or stressful thoughts. These aspects highlight the value of online resources as anti-stress tools. As a result, the analysis of the proposed topic confirms the existence of controversial and ambiguous views on whether social media in the workplace is harmful or not from a business ethics perspective.

The Most Compelling Arguments

The comprehensive assessment of the aforementioned controversial nuances associated with the issue of social media use in the workplace by employees proves that today, different opinions on the acceptability of this phenomenon are given. However, when analyzing the arguments for and against, one should pay attention not to subjective views but to reasonable facts that make it possible to discuss a specific position. In the context of business ethics, a drop in job performance due to constant abstraction from immediate duties is unacceptable and can be regarded as disrespect for colleagues. However, Hajli and Lin’s (2016) argument is adequate about the need for managers to coach their subordinates and create a social media culture in the workplace. This makes no sense to deny the benefits and convenience of utilizing online platforms for file sharing, communication, and receiving feedback from the target audience. Therefore, to avoid controversial issues and claims, organizations should introduce special training programs on the culture of using social media instead of banning these resources.

Another valuable argument in support of social media in the workplace is the use of these platforms for educational purposes. Hauser (2020) mentions coaching sessions aimed to improve employees’ professional competencies in various fields, and the convenience of virtual sites lies not only in their functions as messengers but also in an opportunity to get the necessary materials quickly and individually. Data leakages, cyberattacks due to compromised security, and other negative manifestations of the misuse of social media are signals that employees lack knowledge of the use of virtual resources in the workplace. Therefore, this is in managers’ interests to provide qualified training for subordinates to use the Internet correctly and with safety. The ban is fraught with broken communication and disagreements between the two parties. Therefore, social media in the workplace can be not only acceptable but also valuable if all local users have the necessary skills to use specific sites.

Conclusion

In the context of digitalization, as a process that has affected the business sector, the use of social media in the workplace is often regarded as a controversial phenomenon in an ethical context. The analysis of academic literature confirms the duality of views on this issue and demonstrates differences in opinions on the admissibility of utilizing third-party online resources. As negative implications, the drop in job performance is seen as one of the main outcomes. In addition, subordinates’ uncontrolled statements about the company on the Internet, security threats, and disruption to teamwork are offered as the arguments against social media in the workplace. At the same time, if used wisely, these sites can be valuable resources to speed up interaction among colleagues, establish a stable workflow, and even train employees. If the culture of using virtual sites is promoted, managers will not face threats to productivity and safety, and subordinates will be able to optimize the work process successfully.

References

Barnes, A., Balnave, N., & Holland, P. (2018). ‘Utterly disgraceful’: Social media and the workplace. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 77(3), 492-499. Web.

Carlson, J. R., Zivnuska, S., Harris, R. B., Harris, K. J., & Carlson, D. S. (2016). Social media use in the workplace: A study of dual effects. Journal of Organizational and End User Computing (JOEUC), 28(1), 15-31. Web.

Hajli, N., & Lin, X. (2016). Exploring the security of information sharing on social networking sites: The role of perceived control of information. Journal of Business Ethics, 133(1), 111-123. Web.

Hauser, C. (2020). From preaching to behavioral change: Fostering ethics and compliance learning in the workplace. Journal of Business Ethics, 162(4), 835-855. Web.

Labban, A., & Bizzi, L. (2020). Are social media good or bad for employees? It depends on when they use them. Behaviour & Information Technology, 1-16. Web.

Rauf, A. A. (2020). New moralities for new media? Assessing the role of social media in acts of terror and providing points of deliberation for business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-23. Web.

Song, Q., Wang, Y., Chen, Y., Benitez, J., & Hu, J. (2019). Impact of the usage of social media in the workplace on team and employee performance. Information & Management, 56(8), 103160. Web.

Stohl, C., Etter, M., Banghart, S., & Woo, D. (2017). Social media policies: Implications for contemporary notions of corporate social responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics, 142(3), 413-436. Web.

Zivnuska, S., Carlson, J. R., Carlson, D. S., Harris, R. B., & Harris, K. J. (2019). Social media addiction and social media reactions: The implications for job performance. The Journal of Social Psychology, 159(6), 746-760. Web.

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