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Butt Out IT! Facebook "Productivity Loss" Is No Concern of Yours

by Brian Prentice  |  November 23, 2008  |  10 Comments

Like my colleague Anthony Bradley, I also speak to a lot of IT departments worried about people wasting time on social networking sites like Facebook. But Anthony is a much nicer guy than I am. Oh sure, I firmly believe there’s a lot of time wasting going on. But it’s not from the employees socializing over Facebook. It’s from the IT departments who are obsessing over it happening.

Let me explain why.

First off, IT has no charter to concern themselves with an individual’s work productivity – either specifically or as a group – unless it is their own. That is the responsibility of those people’s manager. In this regard IT departments would be well advised to heed some advice once provided to me by a sage manager – “organizations do not become more effective when their employees spend their time worrying about what other people need to do – they become more effective when the employees worry about what they themselves need to do.”

Secondly, how can you be certain that pure social interaction doesn’t support a business objective? If Jenny from sales is “friending” her prospect list or posting some videos on the fun wall of her clients are you really, really sure you want to stop this type of activity?

Now I’m guessing that most of you have been on a team building activity. Maybe gone to a company Christmas party. Perhaps you’ve even organized one. These types of activities are a whole lot more expensive and legally dangerous (particularly when a few drinks are involved) than Facebook. But we brave the risks because we understand that humans need a social framework to operate effectively.

But last, and most definitely not least, have you ever stopped to ask yourself exactly whose time you think these people are “wasting?” Hands up – who here puts in a strict 40-hour week? Anyone? Anyone?

I seriously doubt that many people are answering in the affirmative because for the vast majority of knowledge workers the 40-hour work week has gone the way of the employer-funded pension plan. In reality we’re probably logging something closer to 50-60 hours a week. And who helped empower this reality? You did Mr./Ms. IT person!

Funny, but I can’t seem to recall as much angst expressed by IT departments over the appropriation of employees’ personal time when laptops, email systems, Blackberry’s and VPNs were being deployed as I’m now hearing about the potential for Facebook to chew into work time.

Guess what? You have no moral basis to deny people the right to reclaim a semblance of a personal life that today’s professional existence makes so hard to achieve. Banging on about this is the Web 2.0 version of listening across the cube to see if anyone is using the company phone for personal reasons. If you’re so compelled to ban the use of Facebook just make sure you also whiteout any feel good statements about “work-life balance” from those mission statement plaques hanging up in your lobby.

Then again, methinks IT doth protest too much. Maybe, just maybe, you’re really just ticked off because users have gone and started using Facebook without your express permission. Maybe, just maybe, you’re really using this time wasting issue as an excuse to re-exert some authority over what these people can do with IT.

Hmmm, maybe.

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Category: the-future-of-ownership-ip-it-industry  trawling-for-trends  

Brian Prentice
Research VP
9 years at Gartner
26 years IT industry

Brian Prentice is a research vice president and focuses on emerging technologies and trends with an emphasis on those that impact an organization's software and application strategy... Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Butt Out IT! Facebook "Productivity Loss" Is No Concern of Yours


  1. Nick Jones says:

    I don’t disagree, but I’m not sure IT is the big problem here. They may be annoyed at their lack of control, or jealous that the users (and even their own children) have cooller technology and a more exciting virtual life than they do. But it’s interesting to run the clock forward a bit and ask where corporations will draw the line. Because I do believe a line will be drawn at some point.

    For example: what about what I call “gratuitous video” – people might start streaming video from a PC webcam all the time just so their freinds / relatives can look to see if they’re at their desk? What if the more extreme forms of lifeblogging became popular and younger employees walked around with a few tiny wireless webcams built into their clothes recording and broadcasting everything they do? Would any corporation feel happy about that?

    I think this is symptomatic of a wider tension in society; between a cultural shift to more personal openness and less privacy and a corporate desire to retain control of information. IMHO this a war in which there are a lot more battles to be fought.

  2. Mich says:

    I agree that it’s not the place of IT to concern themselves with work productivity. I could even imagine feeling like my privacy was violated because I too use FB for business purposes, in addition to personal use. However, in IT’s defense, there is a line in terms of what’s appropriate and what isn’t, and most users tend to cross it pretty regularly. I’m sure if I were to go back and perform a hard edit on my own usage, I’m sure I would find something even I might deem inappropriate about myself–and I try to be very PC (no pun intended). I think Nick’s right: There will be a lot of discussion about this in the future, as there should be. I might also wish to discuss how much time IT seems to have on their hands as well.

  3. Love the post, you’re right. If employees are working 50 hours/week and constantly checking their Blackberries, then keeping up with folks on Facebook while at the office isn’t a big deal. The whole idea of salaried (vs. hourly) employees is that you have a job that you are responsible for. You’re not being paid for the number of hours you work but for what you accomplish.

  4. Great post. I agree for the most part. There are lines to be drawn around how people use company property (computers and bandwidth), but for the most part, it’s harmless.

    Policies and guidelines must exist, but full-on boycotting is more annoying than productive.

    As for the work hours issue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ROWE

  5. Spot on matey…but out IT, get back to wearing cardigans.

  6. […] Butt Out IT – well said […]

  7. Andrew Walls says:

    The litmus test I have always applied to this sort of question (should we block it?) is to ask whether we have a pattern of preventing the analogue version of the same activity. In the early days of web filtering, I was often asked to implement filters to block pornography, gambling sites, share trading, etc. It was easy enough to do this (if you had some $$$), but the real issue is whether the organization performed the same blocking outside of the IT environment.

    Does management monitor you to make sure you aren’t reading a magazine, chatting with colleagues about non-work issues, making phone calls to your partner, etc.? If we don’t police these activities in the analogue world (occasionally referred to as the ‘real world’) why should we police it in the digital world?

    This is an issue about personnel management, not IT management. Yes, we can use technology to implement personnel management, but it is a crude tool applied to a subtle issue. If people are wasting valuable time we need to look at the reasons for their lack of engagement with work tasks before we treat the symptoms. But, that sounds like hard work. It might be easier to just block a few more web sites and act like we actually did something about productivity (not!).

  8. Doug Taylor says:

    The issue isn’t about visiting Facebook, YouTube or ESPN a couple of minutes each day – the real issue is when employees abuse the privilege of using sites like these. The evidence is out there – The Pew Internet Project found that employees waste up to two hours a day on non-work related activities, the biggest one being personal Internet surfing. According to a new report by Nielsen Online, most online videos in the U.S. are watched at work between 9am and 5pm during the work week. Even the online porn industry confirms that the most popular time spent on their sites is during work hours. This isn’t just a waste of employer paid time – it robs the organization of bandwidth, causes IT headaches due to downloaded malware and reduced storage capacity and opens up organizations to legal issues such as sexual harassment, illegal media downloads and potentially embarrassing public relations nightmares such as sexual predators and child porn arrests. According to a survey conducted by SpectorSoft of its customers who use that company’s Spector 360 PC and Internet monitoring software – 96% said the software confirmed their original suspicions. 89% of the companies surveyed found more abuse than they expected, with 28% finding “far more” abuse.

    SpectorSoft Survey: http://downloads.spectorsoft.com/resources/WhitePapers/monitoringSurvey.pdf

  9. Laughable says:

    Ever heard of social engineering? Of course it should be policed. Nuff said.

  10. […] his blog post, which carries the headline “Butt Out IT!”, Gartner’s Prentice begins by making some fairly logical and reasoned arguments: Secondly, […]



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