Say No to Firewalls
Why your company should embrace social media
A young CPA recently told me her firm now firewalls employees from social media websites. Turns out, company execs had been influenced by “e-policy experts” (read: lawyers) who scared the bejeezus out of them. Businesses, they were told, are opening themselves up to breaches of privacy; and, therefore, they have the right to ban any sites they want. This, in an era when LinkedIn is providing employment and customer prospects; Facebook is the new customer focus group; and Twitter brings breaking news better than darn near anything? Here are three reasons why firewalling doesn’t make sense.
1. Not only does firewalling cut off employees from the world around them, it sends a damaging signal about both your workplace and your leadership. In today’s world leaders can no longer control when their clients will pay them, whether the markets will rebound or retirement accounts will be restored. Feeling powerless, they clamp down in the one area they can control—their employees. No more Facebook. No more flex time. No more fun.
Leaders often dismiss what they don’t understand. We saw this with the Internet in its first years. Executives who didn’t understand e-mail or the web stonewalled it, saying it would be too distracting for employees, and dampen their productivity. But what occurred was just the opposite.
So I wonder if firewalling isn’t just another chorus of old farts in leadership positions who’d rather put their heads deeper in the sand as they lose touch with how work is getting done.
2. Firewalling is unfair. The same boss who decides that you can’t check your friend feed from work will drop a paper grenade on your desk on Friday at 5 p.m. ... and expect you to work the entire weekend to clean it up. In other words, your work time belongs to your boss, and your personal time does, too.
3. Firewalling is a behavior that points to what your organization really stands for. Great workplaces are filled with trust. Companies that firewall are not. Great workplaces hire innovative people who can help them get to the future faster. Companies that firewall are disabling the infrastructure that allows their employees to stay in touch, and monitor trends.
From our research with more than 40,000 employees, trust at work is the most important predictor of productivity. Or, as Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson wrote in the new book Rework, “When you treat people like children, you get children’s work.”
So the real issue is not about firewalling. It’s more like, “What kind of culture are we trying to build and maintain, one that needs layers and layers of policies and policing, or one with high standards for trusting, professional and technology-assisted relationships?”
Leaders of award-winning workplaces often advise, “When the herd goes East, head West!” That’s why SAS Institute serves M&Ms on Friday. That’s why Men’s Wearhouse hires people who can’t get a break anywhere else. That’s why Madison Magazine’s 2010 Best Places to Work companies earned kudos, and so many other regional workplaces did not.
If you work for a company that firewalls, you have choices. You can accept the company policy, or you can do what I’d do: start polishing your resume and networking immediately. From home, of course.
Rebecca Ryan’s team studies great places to work, and provided the survey and analysis for Best Places to Work (March 2010).