Bindi Bhullar, director of HCL Technologies, explores why the current draconian approach of UK businesses to social media in the workplace must be discarded to ensure employee empowerment and retention

Recent research carried out by Goldsmith College claims that firms are losing around £4billion a year as a result of a social-networking ban, leading to employees being demoralised while at work. It is my view that a more lenient policy to social media is required across UK businesses. Placing draconian restrictions on channels, that bring benefits to businesses, such Facebook or Twitter, is short sighted and dangerous to corporate morale, effectiveness and productivity.

Facebook has existed since 2004 and I find it remarkable that many businesses have not yet made a decision on what role social networks should play in the workplace. By not addressing the issue, many employers are putting their employees’ interests as a low priority.

The problem is that many companies attempt to stifle the use of social networking sites within their organisations, when in fact they should be actively promoting their use. Banning social networks completely will negatively impact an employee’s approach to work and have a detrimental effect on the business as a whole. Many employers still have fears that some staff will abuse social networks if they are allowed to access them during the working day, but businesses need to treat employees responsibly, as they are then more likely to reciprocate.

Traditionally, the use of social media in the workplace has been associated with potential threats to corporate reputation. However the vast majority of employees will never write anything detrimental about their company on such a site.

The fact is, that when implemented properly, the benefits of open access to social networks will bring more positives to an organisation than negatives. Allowing staff to use these sites makes for a much more interactive and sociable working environment. More than ever before, employees are now open to becoming Facebook friends with their colleagues, which plays an important role in maintaining a positive workplace atmosphere and culture.

Furthermore, a lenient approach to social networking in the workplace is an important aid for businesses in rectifying trust issues that occur between employers and employees. Through actively embracing the use of social sites in the workplace, bosses are able to empower their staff through demonstrating trust and recognition. This idea corresponds to a new enterprise philosophy, which encourages management to actively engage with staff issues, in order to help build a basis of trust in the company.

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This is a management notion that can be readily applied to the use of social websites in the workplace. For example, if employees and their opinions are put first within a company and their concerns are dealt with effectively, those individuals will not be driven out of frustration to post comments detrimental to their organisation or employer on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, they will feel more positively about the business and even become enthusiastic advocates for how it operates.

However in addition to promoting a positive attitude to social media in the workplace, it is also worth remembering is that there are sometimes constraints on social media access for employees based at customer sites. In these situations, policy needs to be flexible to both employees and customers, which will hopefully prompt less social-savvy companies to address how they can most effectively harness the power of the web 2.0.

For too long now, companies have overlooked the effects a positive social media policy can have on staff motivation and retention. With millions of users using Facebook and Twitter on a personal level, the idea of using social networking sites in the workplace should appeal to employers not scare them, as these are communications channels staff are already familiar and comfortable with.

However, despite the need for employers to have a more relaxed approach towards social networking, orgnaisations still have to be aware of the impact on productivity in the workplace? By setting clear guidelines, any misuse of social media can be dealt with appropriately within an organisation. Guidelines will also prevent staff from wasting their working days browsing Facebook and other such sites.

Once these guidelines are in place, social networking sites can become a vital communications tool for Generation Y, the next wave of digitally competent business leaders. This generation is used to communicating in an open and collaborative environment, with social websites allowing them to share content and use the chat and messaging functions for quick communication with friends and colleagues. If employers ban sites such as Facebook or Twitter outright, they are in danger of making their companies less desirable to future employees.

As a counterpoint, it is good to see many businesses now tailoring their social media policies to cater for professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. At HCL, we have an internal platform MEME which allows us to meet staff expectations and demand for these channels. I predict there will be a sharp rise in popularity of enterprise social networks such as Yammer to cope with employee demand for different communications channels within their organisations.

In summary, if an organisation fails to make any effort to embrace social networking, chances are they will be being left behind. However, by implementing an appropriate social media policy, companies can educate staff on the importance of social media and the increasingly important role it plays in the corporate world. This knowledge can in turn help employees become more actively involved with their company brand and working culture and feel more committed to it. At the same time, being actively engaged in the social media debate gives bosses and managers an important opportunity to display trust in and recognition of their employees, which has a positive impact on company work ethic, culture and infrastructure, thus benefiting the business as a whole.

About the Author
Bindi is the HCL head director in EMEA. Bindi also has a strong technical background with an engineering graduate with a management degree from the world renowned Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.

He started his career with HCL as a Senior Management Trainee in 1995 and was one of the first members of the team that started the global operations of HCL ISD (in Connecticut, USA) in 1998-99. Since 2003, Bindi has been spearheading HCL CIO Operations in Europe. He reports into the CEO.