Employee Engagement

Social media is a long way off infiltrating the workplace to the extent it has bec ome embedded in our personal lives, and employers could be missing a trick, according to new research from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

A survey of more than 2,000 employees, launched at the CIPD’s Social Media in HR conference today, has found that while three in four (76%) use social media in their personal lives, just one in four (26%) use it for work purposes.

The research, entitled 'Social technology, social business?’, found that almost half (47%) 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 (50%) 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 (just 6% of non-users can see 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 revealed a variety of benefits associated with using social media in the workplace:

  • Half (50%) of those who use social media for work purposes say it helps them collaborate with people outside their organisation

  • 53% say it gives them meaningful connections with new people

  • 1 in 5 (20%) says it gives them the opportunity to discuss aspects of their work they would not otherwise discuss

  • Nearly 1 in 3 (31%) says it helps them be more responsive to customers

  • Around 1 in 4 says it helps them be more influential in their organisations (24%) and gives employees a voice (23%).

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, comments: “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.

“Social media’s potential for improving employee voice and employee engagement has not yet been realised, and employers could be missing a real trick there. Although technology alone will never be capable of transforming an organisation’s culture, inhibiting channels of communication will only serve to create the kind of closed cultures that have proven to be so toxic in many organisations in recent years.  Employers who actively embrace and encourage the use of social media are most likely to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks – HR and communications departments should be leading the charge in this regard, since if they are not focused on building strong and open cultures, then who is?”

Other findings from the research include:

  • Social media is much more likely to be used for networking and collaboration externally than within the organisation.

  • Amongst organisations that do use social media internally, only 11 per cent of employees say it is used a great deal for gathering views from employees and 18 per cent say it is used a great deal for collaboration, whereas 48% per cent say it is used a great deal for staff updates.

  • 8 in 10 respondents said their organisation does not make any use of social media to provide learning and development opportunities to staff. By contrast, a third of employees who use social media cite knowledge sharing (34%) and learning (32%) among their top uses. Read more about the use of social media for learning on the CIPD research blog.

  • The research found broad support for the notion that social media can improve efficiency in terms of getting information to the right people at the right time, but found equal support for the view that it leads to information overload. This suggests that in most organisations our mastery of the technology is not yet developed enough to make social media a very reliable communication tool across the board.

  • In an accompanying survey of more than 500 HR professionals, three in ten respondents (29%) reported that their organisations had disciplined or dismissed employees for misuse of social media in the last year. By far the most common reason for this was posting inappropriate comments.

  • According to HR professionals, the most common reason for restricting or banning social media was IT security, followed closely by concerns about employee productivity. This points to either a lack of trust or a view that social media is superfluous to people’s jobs.

To read the findings in full, download the report here. The CIPD’s latest podcast discusses the report’s findings in more depth, as well as talking to some truly social HR practitioners about the impact that these technologies have had on their working lives. To listen to the podcast, click here.

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