Facebooking at Work: A Brief Commentary

Why workplace policies banning social media are necessary

Posted Oct 07, 2009

Pamela Rutledge's comments about the Positive Psychology perspective on creating appropriate social media usage in the workplace doesn't make sense to me. In fact, I think it's positively wishful thinking.

Here we are again, Pamela and I arguing about social media use and self-regulation. Given that it's not a new debate, I'll keep this short and to the point.

Pamela closed her last blog entry about social media being banned in 54% of workplaces by writing,

"From a positive psychology perspective, if employees have appropriately challenging and defined goals and targets to meet at work, then they will either self-regulate or self-terminate.  The ability to text message or post a Tweet should not be viewed as an indication of deviant behavior.  There are, after all, lots of ways to waste time."

Pamela and I agree that appropriately well-defined goals in a context that supports employee autonomy are very important. This is not a finding of "Positive" Psychology, by the way, but I digress. Without goals and an appropriately supportive context for those goals, I agree that we all will be more likely to be less motivated to engage in tasks or stay on task.

The thing is, this analysis neglects the power of distraction. Some things are very seductive distractions that can undermine even the most goal-oriented individual. This is certainly true of social media tools, because in addition to feelings of competence and autonomy captured in the analysis above, we also have a basic human need for social relatedness (which Pamela notes as well). So, at work I may have goals that are appropriately challenging and defined and targets to meet, but my social needs are even more well defined and certainly easier to fulfill (and more fun too).

Yes, there are lots of ways to waste time, but some ways are easier than others. How easy something is to do is an important issue as well. How often would we change the television channel if we didn't have a remote control? I know the answer to this first because I grew up with television long before remote controls, and second because when the "clicker" is misplaced in our house, there's a lot less channel surfing.

The point is, it's wishful thinking to propose that setting an appropriate work context will result in appropriate use of social media tools. We're simply not always rational decision makers. Peter Ubel argues this well in his book "Free Market Madness." Policies can help us help ourselves.

I'm not demonizing social media. I'm just being realistic about human nature. We're not really good, all of the time, at making the best choices for ourselves, or, it would seem, the workplace.