Hold onto your hats, social media trend watchers. As new platforms keep emerging and established sites continue to revolutionize both personal and organizational communications, the groundwork is also being laid for a potentially epic conflict between those who have not yet embraced social media as a business tool and those who believe employees should have unrestricted access to them.
In a report with the intriguing title When Worlds Collide – The Rise of Social Media for Professional and Personal Use, Kelly Services examined the generational, occupational and regional disparities occurring as the workplace grapples with whether (and how) to assimilate Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, et. al. into internal communication, marketing and public relations strategies.
Here are a few of the key questions addressed in this study:
1. How acceptable is personal social media use in the workplace? If you guessed that younger generations are far more inclined than their elders to feel they should be able to check personal social media accounts at work, you’re absolutely right. A third of Gen X-ers and nearly four in 10 Gen Y-ers stated they should be allowed to do so, compared with under 20 percent of Baby Boomers. On a global level, the Americas are exercising much more caution in this area than their Asian, European and African counterparts. While nearly half of the Asian-Pacific respondents and a third of those in Europe, the Middle East and Africa approve of using social media at work, the Americas came in at a wary 16 percent.
2. Would or does having personal social media access affect work productivity? Nearly 50 percent of Boomers think the impact is or would be a negative one, but here the generational gap closes somewhat, with 40 percent of Gen Y and 44 percent of Gen X agreeing with respondents born before 1960. Again, the productivity concern is greatest in the Americas (53 percent), compared to Europe and the Middle East (41 percent) or Asian-Pacific countries (34 percent).
3. Do mixing personal and professional connections via social media affect one’s career? Again, half of all Boomers in the survey cited this as an issue, but this time Gen X and Gen Y weren’t far behind at 46 percent each. Globally, the Americas once again led all other regions in expressing this concern.
4. Is sharing one’s opinion about work via social media okay to do? Less than a third (28 percent) of Generation Y-ers think so, but they still remain more open about voicing workplace related thoughts than Gen X-ers (22 percent) and Boomers (16 percent). As with the other issues looked at in this study, the Americas were the most guarded at 82 percent, and those who work in the Asian-Pacific region least guarded at 66 percent.
5. Do employers have a right to access employees’ personal accounts or pages? The generations stand united on this front, with more than half of each age group opposing employer access to what employees think or share off the job. General agreement on this question also spanned the globe. Interestingly, this opinion extended to both current and prospective employers—at a time when more companies do look to social media as a way to gauge the potential success of job applicants.
On the surface, it appears that employees and employers may be on a collision course when it comes to establishing social media guidelines both sides can live with. Surely, social media has created some murky waters for everyone to navigate—and there’s no shoreline in site. Going forward, open communication and compromises will be key as social media use becomes more and more integrated into the fabric of everyday business.