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How much social media is OK at work?

In this advice column, we tackle industry challenges.

Q. I often catch my employees on their smartphones, checking Facebook or Instagram. Come to think of it, I’m not sure what they’re looking at. It’s usually only for short spurts of time, but I don’t like the sight of my staff gazing down at their phones. Should I discourage this behavior? Or should I accept it as part of the world we’re living in?

A. You’re right to wonder if all that downtime your employee spends scrolling through her Twitterfeed is eating into your bottom line — not to mention providing bad optics to your customers. Norms around phones and social media are changing rapidly. Just a few years ago it was considered inappropriate for workers to “waste” time online during business hours.

But more and more, we live our lives through our phones, and there could be legitimate reasons your employees are glancing down at their devices during work. For all you know, your staff could be scheduling their next shifts or communicating with managers on Sling during those moments.

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, social media plays a role in many workers’ lives, but it’s unclear whether the practice is always positive. Some 34 percent of workers use social media to “take a mental break,” the study found.

The report also found several work-related benefits to using social media: 24 percent of workers use it to make or support professional connections; 20 percent said social media helps them solve problems at work; 17 percent use the technology to build or strengthen relationships with coworkers; and 12 percent said social media is useful for asking work-related questions inside their business.

Those who use Sling know that having an all-in-one platform for making shift schedules, messaging with co-workers without email, and staying updated through an internal newsfeed is the best way to quickly communicate with staff.

Which bothers you more: That your staff is distracted while looking at social media? Or that the sight of employees staring at their phones is unacceptable?

Set some ground rules for phone and social media use at your workplace. Challenge your employees to only check their phones for five to ten minutes once an hour. Ask them to switch on airplane mode so they’re not getting constant notifications. Or if it’s really a problem, have them place their phones in a box during work.

The Pew study found that about 51 percent of workers say their employers have policies about social media use — and the guidelines help cut back on time employees actually spend on social media.

Ask staff members why they’re on their phones. If they have legitimate reasons, listen. Explain your concerns. It’s possible staff members may welcome a break from their devices and just need a push.

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