Social Networking at Work Is a Major Risk with Large Costs

By Verschoor, Curtis C. | Strategic Finance, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Social Networking at Work Is a Major Risk with Large Costs


Verschoor, Curtis C., Strategic Finance


The Ethics Resource Center T(ERC) has been conducting nationally representative surveys of ethical attitudes, knowledge, and beliefs in the U.S. workforce since 1994. Its latest comprehensive report, 2011 National Business Ethics Survey[R] (NBES), included a series of questions about social networks and the people who use them. The intriguing findings on this subject led ERC to perform a follow-up survey in 2012 that focused on employees' social networking activities. The resulting report, National Business Ethics Survey of Social Networkers (NBES-SN), found that the emergence of social networking has serious implications for the workplace. ERC believes "social networking is affecting the way work gets done, reshaping ideas about transparency and confidentiality, and even altering attitudes about the type of conduct that is acceptable in the workplace."

The Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) provided an indication of the importance of social networking to financial markets on April 2, 2013, when it announced that companies can use social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to report key market-moving information to the general public. These actions comply with Regulation Fair Disclosure (Regulation FD) as long as companies inform investors which social media outlets will be used.

According to the NBES-SN, "Social networking is now the norm, and a growing number of employees spend some of their workday connected to a social network." In 2011, three-quarters of American workers at all levels reported that they belonged to one or more social networks. The 2012 report notes that the proportion is higher today. Contrary to popular belief, young workers aren't the only ones using social networks. While the rate for 18- to 45-year-olds was 83%, participation by those in the 45- to 63-year-old group reached 67%. A November 2013 presentation by The Infographic Show reported that 67% of people use social networks when they are supposed to be working. Analysis of demographic factors in the NBES-SN, including gender, management level, intent to stay, education, union status, and compensation status (hourly or salaried), confirms that the population of social networkers closely mirrors the overall working population in the United States. The issue showing the greatest difference between a social networker and the U.S. workforce as a whole is tenure. Fewer social networkers have either short (less than one year) or long (11 years or more) tenure at their employer.

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The top social networks that the largest percentages of employees use are Facebook (95%), Twitter (43%), Google+ (37%), LinkedIn (37%), Pinterest (23%), MySpace (21%), and a personal blog (14%).

Active Social Networkers (ASNs), which are employees who spend at least 30% of their workday connected to one or more social networks, represent 10% of the workforce. ASNs are younger: Workers younger than 30 make up only 26% of the total workforce but represent about 47% of ASNs. Workers older than 45 make up 43% of the total workforce but only 13% of ASNs.

ASNs include more members of middle management and first-line supervisors (71%) than the workforce as a whole. Again, employees who are more likely to be ASNs include males, workers in publicly traded companies, workers between the ages of 30 and 44, workers with some college or a technical degree, workers with three to five years' tenure, employees who intend to stay one to two years, employees who intend to stay three to five years, middle managers, first-line supervisors, members of unions, and salaried employees.

According to the NBES-SN report, "Nearly three out of four social networkers (72%) say they spend at least some time on their social networks during every workday, and almost three in 10 (28%) say such activity adds up to an hour or more of each day they spend at work." More than a quarter (27%) of ASNs check a social network about every hour. …

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Social Networking at Work Is a Major Risk with Large Costs
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