Headlines: December 5th, 2013

Social media is a long way off infiltrating the workplace to the extent it has become embedded in our personal lives, and employers could be missing a trick, according to new research from the CIPD. While three in four use social media in their personal lives, just one in four use it for work purposes.

The research, ‘Social technology, social business?’, found that almost half of employees who use social media for work on a daily basis already see real benefits for their organisations, suggesting that employers who aren’t actively encouraging and embracing its use could be missing out. The survey also confirmed generational differences in the use of social media, with the proportion of UK employees who use social media for work rising to 42% among 18 to 24 year-olds. This suggests it will become more commonplace in the future, irrespective of organisational strategy, and many employers are likely to be left playing catch up – neither managing risk sufficiently nor reaping the potential benefits.

The research also sought to find out what might be holding employers and employees back. Half of employees have access to social media at their workplace – double the number that currently use it – suggesting that access is not a major issue.

Further, while many employees said that their organisations had strict policies on social media, this was in line with what they thought was appropriate. Rather, the CIPD’s research shows that the main factors at play are issues of perception and organisational culture. Many employees are not yet convinced of the value of social media or its relevance to their role, with just 6% of non-users seeing the benefits, and in those organisations where policies on social media are most relaxed, greater benefits are reaped. 56% see a lot of benefit from social media for the organisation, compared to 39% of organisations with strict policies.

The survey does not support concerns that social media platforms used within organisations leads to time-wasting and reduced productivity due to non-work chat, but nor has the potential for employee voice and collaboration within organisations been realised.

Few employees consider that their organisation uses social media to give employees a voice or for leaders to understand them and, although senior leaders are more likely to use social media than others, mid-ranking managers are the most likely to use it to engage with colleagues.

It seems that senior leaders have realised the potential of social media to build networks outside their organisations, but have not yet taken on board the argument that social media is an important leadership tool, helping them be visible to their employees, gain trust and focus employees on strategy.

Jonny Gifford, research adviser at the CIPD, said: “For the moment, the claims made by social media advocates who predicted widespread transformation of our workplaces and working lives appear exaggerated, but the impact of social media in the workplace is likely to grow as more people interact with it. When you look at the number of young people already using social media, it does look set to become a bigger part of how we work in the future.”