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Ask the Experts: Help! My Employees Spend Too Much Time on Facebook

By Harper Willis
Ask the Experts is an ongoing series, where we feature business owners facing problems they don't know how to solve. Want advice on your own dilemma? Email us: ownersonly(at)bnet(dot)com.
The Business: Ken Wisnefski is the CEO of WebiMax, an online marketing firm based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey that specializes in search engine optimization and social media. The company was founded in 2008 and now has 150 employees.

Annual Revenue: $15 million

Problem: Wisnefski's employees are wasting valuable time chatting with friends on Facebook and watching videos on YouTube. He can't block his employees from using these sites at work because WebiMax's services include launching social media and new-media campaigns for their clients. He needs his employees to have full access to these types of sites.

Webimax managers who are linked with employees through Facebook often report seeing long, public, non-work related conversations between employees and their friends. "I don't tell my managers to rat out my employees, but it's impossible to ignore," says Wisnefski.

He recently had to fire an employee for spending hours on Facebook consoling a friend who'd just broken up with her boyfriend. When Wisnefski confronted the employee about the situation she told him, "It just seemed more important than my work at the time."

Wisnefski is in a bit of a double bind. Part of what gives his company an edge over the competition is hiring young, Internet-savvy employees. On the flipside, younger workers are more prone to using social sites for non-work related reasons. "There's a fine line between being that cool marketing company that young people like to work at and becoming inefficient and slow as a result of all the time that employees waste on these sites," says Wisnefski.

He's talked to employees about the problem and everyone gives his concerns lip service, but it hasn't stopped them from continuing to abuse the sites.

He's stopped hiring college interns, as he's found they tend to be the worst offenders and the least motivated to change. "It's too bad," says Wisnefski, "because some of the interns we've had in the past were super smart and motivated."

Wisnefski wants to know how he can crack down on abuse without destroying the relaxed youth-friendly atmosphere that gives his business a competitive edge and makes it a special place to work. "I know this type of thing has become part of our culture, and I accept that. I am just trying to keep it from getting out of hand."

What the Experts Said:
"It's important to remember that whatever the recent changes in employee attitudes towards social media in the workplace, the employer retains the right to control how employees spend their time while at work.

All employers should have very clear and thorough rules and written policies restricting employees' use of company hardware and software for personal purposes on work time. You can limit or even prohibit the use of cell phones or smartphones, such as iPhones and BlackBerrys, on company time. If employees are required to use the Internet or social media sites in the workplace, then it will come down to employer monitoring. That means managers and supervisors looking over the employees' shoulders to see what they are doing during the workday. It may also make sense to have certain dedicated computers set up with Facebook or Twitter where the employees may go to sit and work on certain projects, and then return to their normal work desk when that part of the project is finished."

--Beth Schroeder, Partner, Silver & Freedman
"First, you need a strong policy in place to handle misuse of time and company resources. Employees need to know where the boundaries are and that they will be held accountable for their actions. Ultimately, they need to know that there is work to be done first and foremost and that abuse will lead to restrictions.

Have a frank discussion with your managers about your concerns. Also, ask employees for ideas on how to resolve the issue so that they can continue to have a relaxed atmosphere, but still accomplish the work.

While you may not be able to restrict these sites completely, you can proactively use available technology -- firewalls and web-filtering services -- to limit access. In extreme cases, have your managers or the IT department note which employees are abusing their access to personal sites and handle those situations with disciplinary action. This may need to happen on a daily basis initially and periodically thereafter.

It is very important for the managers to regularly communicate with their employees. Department meetings and 15-minute daily huddles where employees have to give an account of their activities may help the employees to hold themselves and their peers accountable."

--Christina Stovall, Director of HR, Odyssey One Source
"One of the inherent problems with social media client work is that it's difficult to track the ROI and the time spent. The power of one Facebook or Twitter post can be huge, and it's hard to weigh it against typical work. More importantly, you need to know if your clients are happy. There might be an opportunity to set up weekly engagement goals for your employees, since that's really the point of social media. If they are meeting and exceeding those goals, let them converse with their friends at the same time as much as they like. People can be efficient and social at the same time.

Lastly, what motivations do your employees have to keep working hard? Are they being rewarded and praised for successes? Simple positive client feedback can go a long way."

--Jason Sadler, Founder, iWearYourShirt

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