Software security company Clearswift has issued its 2011 WorkLifeWeb report, which details employers’ opinions on social media use in the workplace. Most businesses across the globe are increasingly wary of allowing employees to use social media services such as Facebook and Twitter at work–68% of companies monitor employee internet activity and 56% of companies block access to certain sites. In 2010, 9% of companies specifically blocked access to Facebook and Twitter, and that figure has risen to 19% over the past year.  America alone is bucking this trend, with 30% of companies actually encouraging social media use in the workplace.

Social Media at WorkMost companies who have implemented blocks say they are concerned about security and data loss issues. Japan leads the pack in this trend, with 92% of managers citing security fears as their reason for clamping down. However, even company managers who share security concerns acknowledge that social media in the workplace could have some inherent value, particularly when it comes to web collaboration tools, enhanced communication, and brand reach.

Employees, naturally, do not share the same concerns as their managers. In particular, the younger generation views access to social media as a job perk. A Telindus survey of 18-24-year-olds revealed that 39% of them would consider quitting if a Facebook ban was imposed. For all age ranges, Clearswift reports that 26% of employees would become demotivated if stricter social media policies were implemented in their workplace. Another 14% say they would work around such policies, and 3% would consider leaving.

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What are the Benefits of Social Media at Work?

Collaboration & Communication

Social networking tools promote employee communication and productivity, particularly if the social media is an in-house solution (although Facebook groups and Twitter streams can be  used to similar effect). This alternate form of communication cuts down on email inbox clutter and facilitates more open communication (which can be a book for managers who are seeking transparency in workplace processes). Additionally, it can be a repository for company news, questions, answers, and new ideas, all of which can be indexed, searched, and filtered by relevance across the organization. This online “database” can boost productivity by promoting cross-training and providing an easily accessible database of answers that are available to all employees, 24-7. The key, experts say, is in how use of these tools is managed.

Productivity

Several recent studies state that employees who are allowed to spend time on social media sites at work are happier, more loyal to the company, and more productive overall than those who don’t enjoy this privilege. The ability to take short mental breaks throughout the workday can enhance mental clarity and focus, promoting better work overall. One study found that “People who do surf the internet for fun at work–within a reasonable limit of less than 20 percent of their total time at the office–are more productive by about nine percent than those who don’t.”

Weigh in: What other benefits might be realized from using social media at work?