Monday, March 16, 2009

Bratty Employees Need Their Toys: The Changing Face of Employee Entitlement

Geoffrey James, a writer and former salesperson has written a scathing post calling a company "stupid," "clueless" and "like the Chinese government" for blocking employee access to YouTube, the video sharing community site.

While Mr. James admits that there is "a lot of crap" on YouTube and agrees that it can become a "waste of time," he points to the free business oriented videos that are also available on the site as being reason to give employees unrestricted access.

My first reaction is to chalk this guy up as one of many business writers that don't really understand business issues and certainly not the management of corporate human resources. I don't want to say that those who can... do - and those who can' - but there's certainly no dearth of business articles from those who don't have a real grasp on what they are writing about. (Remember the Why I Hate HR article in Fast Company magazine?)

Now I'm not advocating the banning of YouTube (or other social media sites) so if you are prepared to bite my head off please save it. I do recommend that organizations that are concerned about overuse, misuse or abuse of social media during the workday provide guidelines, policies and controls as necessary. The degree of control depends upon the company, industry, type of employees, corporate culture, etc.. I'll also say that those organizations who choose to restrict access altogether for those employees that don't need access have every right to do so. In some cases it may be a smart move.

My second reaction, though, is the one I'd like to explore. That is, this enormous shift that has taken place over the last few years regarding employee entitlement. James is absolutely not alone in his fervent belief that employees have the right to do whatever they want during their workday and it's none of their employer's business. The presumption is that if they are getting their work accomplished that is all that matters. Leave me alone. I can play while I work if I want to. Surprisingly this is incredibly common thinking today.

I'm not sure when or how this new form of entitlement creeped into employees' consciousness. Clearly it's not just an outcome of new technology. When televisions shrunk to desk size back in the 1980s employees didn't feel suddenly compelled or empowered to watch television programs at their desk. The first cell phones didn't encourage the abuse of personal phone calls during the workday (though I'm not sure that is still the case). Even computer games, for the most part, were played on off hours or at least sparingly throughout the day.

So what gives?

Did it start with the Foosball tables, free food and Porsche-sign-on bonuses of the late 1990s? Or maybe it's the generally addictiveness of the new collaborative-based Internet?

Regardless of the catalyst, this creates two large challenges for employers. The first is learning about social media and creating appropriate social computing policies. The one thing that James is correct about is that social media does present a number of new and useful tools for business. Among these are the networking opportunities. (Though clearly not all jobs require nor benefit from this kind of networking.) Appropriate use of programs like LinkedIn and Twitter for specific business purposes can provide excellent benefits to many employees and their organizations.

If you need to create a social computing policy for your organization, there are a number of good examples readily available. They generally address a variety of things such as productivity, confidentiality, respect, disclaimers and representation of the company. You can email me at "bncarvin at nobscot dot com" and I can point you to some samples.

You can also utilize employees attraction to social networking by creating internal networks that employees can use to network and connect with each other. This provides employees an outlet for online camaraderie while at the same time strengthening your internal culture and employee bonds.

The second challenge is a lot more difficult and involves providing some "tough love" or wake-up calls to employees about the nature That's something that we as leaders and managers have to join together on. We are not doing our employees any favors by allowing them to slack off excessively. That's like the parents who ignore their children's truancy or laziness or lack of motivation or drug use because they want to be nice or want to be the cool parents. Mentoring and coaching our employees on how to focus on work during the workday is a good thing. It will help them become more successful and help our companies and future companies thrive in the years to come.

What says you?

Should employees be entitled to play on social websites to their heart's content?