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?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

By all means, treat your employees like children by keeping them from temptation. In fact, you have an obligation to baby the poor dears, since you're the person who hired immature brats in the first place. Maybe you should help them with the paperwork when they go to the toilet, too.

Or, how about this alternative plan: hire people who will do the work assigned to them, and fire them if they don't do that work.

1:05 AM, March 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think this is only about "keeping them from temptation." Sites like YouTube suck up a lot of bandwidth, and that slows down the people who are doing the work assigned to them. They're also noisy and distracting to their neighbors.

I think one silver lining to the tough economy is that we'll see fewer people who think that the company provides them a computer for extensive personal use. I don't have a problem with employees who check their bank balance once in a while, or send the occasional personal email. I've had a few who only actually worked a couple of hours a day, and those people were shown the door pretty quickly.

11:21 AM, March 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My belief is this goes back to how parents parent. All too often these days and in the past 20 years or so, parents want to be a friend to their kids. So they allow their kids to eat in front of the t.v., allow almost constant cell phone usage w/o limits, allow their kids to do their homework "if they feel like it", ad nauseum. Thus the parents never truly install themselves in the eyes of their kids as someone who sets and applies the household rules. As those same kids graduate college, they have this warped sense that anything goes in the workplace as long as "they get their work done". Nope, sorry, business must have rules, policies. Heck, I'll say it: they had "rules" in college, too. Did any of them ever walk in to their classroom in their bikini or underwear? Any of them ever pop open a cold one (and I don't mean soda) and chug it in the middle of a lecture. Will bet the answer is no.

Any civilization has rules, policies....eeegads, LAWS. While we don't want the workplace to be dictatorial, there must be in most workplaces, guidelines that must be adhered to. And many employers just DO NOT want the role of playing Police in the workplace, thus they deny access to these social sites. Understandable.

It's not as simple as "hire people who will do the work assigned to them, and fire them if they don't do that work". Hire those people who can work within the culture of the organization, acknowledging that culture might cramp their personal style or personal desires for ultimate freedom while working. There is a balance that can be struck in most organizations, but I do understand when some companies just say no (apologies to Nancy Reagan) to allowing access to all sites on the Internet.

12:00 PM, March 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Management is not parenting. Goldbricking is not a new phenomenon. When employees are properly goaled and appropriately compensated, they will do the work assigned them, regardless of distractions, which exist whether or not the Internet, or social networking sites, are present. If you forbid them YouTube, the responsible employees will think you're an idiot and find work elsewhere. The irresponsible employees will run a football poll, flirt with the hot little number in reception, or hang around the watercooler, etc. Unless you're willing get out the cattle prods, you aren't going to get any work out of them. Killing YouTube access or social networking only gives you the illusion of making them productive. But you've already lost the battle.

By the way, today's workers are not one iota different from the workers of yesteryear. I'm a baby boomer and I knew plenty of the "greatest generation" when I first started working and some of them had raised goldbricking to a fine art. The only people who believe this "Gen Y is different" stuff are those gullible enough to be lulled by management fads.

2:52 PM, March 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I had an employee who was dumb enough to quit because the company didn't let him watch YouTube during the day, I'd consider that good riddance. Anyone who makes career decisions based on what websites they can access during the day is a moron. "Properly goaled" doesn't trump stupid.

3:14 PM, March 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Geoffrey - I suppose you endorse access to pr0n in the workplace as well. As long as the employee gets his work done, who cares what he does when he is playing. After all, we are not parents, right?

In the real world, businesses pay employees to work. And those employees are expected to work 8 hours. They are not expected to work really hard for 2 hours and then take a 6 hour break or even an hour break playing on the internet. They are supposed to work all day long. That is what is called a JOB.

What you are describing is something other than a job, something like freelance or consulting or being a student. If you really are a baby boomer then you know that anyone that watched tv at work 20 years ago would have been fired for it, even if they did get their "assigned" work done.

The difference between getting your "assigned" work done and working 8 hours even if your assigned work has been completed is the difference between a sub-par employee and a good employee.

3:20 PM, March 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Geoffrey did not say that managing is parenting. You missed my point. Let me explain: never held to authority, you think all authority is bad and must be fought. Must be "your way".

The business will survive without you. But the business might not survive with the "anything goes" philosophy. First and foremost in the business mind is: make a profit. Can't do that if business is shut down due to, oh let's say, a lawsuit for something an employee posted on You Tube during work hours using work equipment.

The Management made a good point: you are paid for work services. If your work is done in 2 hours, then you should be paid for 2 hours and let go for the day. If 4 of you are working just 2 hours a day, then goofing off 6, that's only ONE full time equivalent (1.0 FTE stated in HR parlance). Our jobs as good HR people is to then balance the workforce which will remove the extraneous 3 other employees.

I think overall G. James, you are poking the badger here and having a good time. I seriously doubt in this economy that workers are quitting their jobs due to not being able to watch You Tube while on the company clock. Do they also quit because there are no Pampers in the vending machine?

And I so agree with Kerry: if an employee does not fit the culture and (foolishly) resigns because he cannot view You Tube while at work, so be it, good riddance.

4:36 PM, March 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Mr. James knows sales. His blog is called Sales Machine. I don't think its called HR Machine. There is a nice niche for HR people out there who can function well in a Sales environment. And if they are smart sales-co HR people they'll be reading Mr. James' blog before a blog that posts an article maybe once a month to stir up some old tired HR arguments.

7:52 AM, March 18, 2009  
Anonymous John said...

Work is not a social employment arena and this is obvious with the downturn, employees are being let go.

So social networking sites belong outside working hours. Employees could be given access to social sites during lunchtimes - green time/red time.

8:15 AM, April 01, 2009  
Anonymous Claire said...

We can enjoy social sites, during lunch breaks or after our working day. Which means that you can catch up before you leave the office.

Sometimes our boss tells us sites to visit and encourages feedback from anything interesting that we may have picked up on that would be good for our business.

7:49 AM, April 10, 2009  

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