Making the Connection

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1 Making the Connection How Facebook is changing the supervisory relationship Strategy Wins.

2 Making the Connection How Facebook is changing the supervisory relationship Like the telephone, fax machine and , Facebook s impact on how we communicate as a culture has been nothing short of revolutionary. Despite only coming into existence seven years ago, Facebook has become both the most frequently visited site on the Internet, and for many, the center of the online experience. Are you Facebook friends with your work supervisor? YES NO USED TO BE 74% 5% 21% It is only natural, therefore, to assume that Facebook has significantly influenced one of our most unique relationships interactions between a supervisor and his/her subordinate. Efforts by both parties to bring interpersonal dynamics into our increasingly connected digital age, however, are often made uneasily and without guidance. Center to the challenge Facebook poses is the definition of boundaries. Differing perspectives on the distinctions between personal and professional identities are frequently a source of strife on both sides of the supervisor-subordinate relationship. To further complicate matters, as a platform, Facebook makes no distinction between one s personal and professional identity, and its rise as a preferred means of communication threatens to destroy any distinctions altogether. Strategic marketing firm, Russell Herder, recently conducted an online survey of nearly 1,000 United States residents to gain insight into attitudes and behaviors regarding supervisors and subordinates connecting as Facebook friends. Our research, which included a broad sampling of age groups and gender, sought to learn the following: How frequently do supervisors and their employees become friends on Facebook, and who initiates the connection? 2

3 Do connected supervisors and subordinates communicate via Facebook, and if so, in what context? Does such communication on Facebook impact productivity positively or negatively? Do attitudes and behaviors towards supervisors and employees connecting as Facebook friends vary by age, gender or frequency of Facebook usage? Who initiated the friend request? I DID MY BOSS DID DON T RECALL 16% 46% 38% Background The issues surrounding employee fraternization are as old as time. Given that the average worker spends 20 percent of their week on the job 1, often in collaboration with others, it s no surprise that a sense of intimacy and camaraderie arises, leading to friendships that transcend professional relationships. The problem for many companies occurs when such close interchange forms between direct reports. While few employers object to cultivating inter-office friendships, many are rightly concerned that social factors can adversely influence critical decisions particularly those made by supervisors and employees they lead. Despite this, however, a September 2010 survey by Adecco found that 61 percent of people consider their boss a friend and 23 percent spend time with their boss outside of work and enjoy it. Further complicating these relationships is a persistent belief among employees that they must engage on a social level with their supervisor in order to advance professionally. According to Adecco, one out of five employees has taken at least a partial interest in a supervisor s hobbies or interests for the express purpose of getting ahead, and one in 10 spends time outside of the office with a supervisor but does not enjoy it 2. 1 Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics September Adecco Best Boss Survey September November 2011 But while these issues are as old as workplaces themselves, the impact of online social networks is a relatively recent phenomenon. Much of this conundrum is driven by the sheer mass adoption of social networks. Facebook alone now boasts 800 million active users, half of whom log into the platform every day. 3 3

4 As usage of social networking has grown, so too have online connections between supervisors and their employees. Consequently, as the usage of online social networks has grown, so has the level of ambiguity in the relationship between supervisors and subordinates. Nearly one-third of people believe that connecting with their supervisor boosts their chance of advancing within the company, while 29 percent feel pressure to accept invitations from their supervisor to connect on social networks 2. Perhaps validating the genuineness that people perceive in friendships on social networks, several studies have indicated disconcert and reservation towards connections between employees and their supervisors in an online setting. Liberty Mutual s Responsibility Project found that 56 of Americans felt it was irresponsible to be Facebook friends with one s boss, while 62 percent felt similarly about connecting with a direct report. Three in 10 report that an existing connection with their supervisor on a social network makes them uncomfortable or nervous 2. If you are friends with your supervisor on Facebook, what type of communications do you have? MALE FEMALE 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% SOCIAL PROFESSIONAL Key Findings As usage of social networking has grown, so too have online connections between supervisors and their employees. That said, age, gender and frequency of social networking usage significantly influence attitudes and behaviors regarding the decision to connect with one s supervisor online. Further, notable differences exist between demographics with respect to the reasons why people connect with their supervisor via social networks and the subsequent impact on their job 4

5 performance. Select findings from the online survey we conducted in October 2011 follow here. Facebook friendships between supervisors and their staff originates from both parties Of those who have both a Facebook account and a direct supervisor, 26 percent ages report they are connected to their supervisor on Facebook compared to only 10 percent of those ages 35 and over. Similarly, frequency of Facebook usage correlates to one s likelihood of being connected with their supervisor. Of those who log into Facebook daily, 23 percent report they are friends with their supervisor on Facebook compared to only 12 percent who log into Facebook less than once per day. Potential concerns regarding personal-professional boundaries and social networks also vary significantly by age and frequency of social network usage. Only 28 percent of Facebook users ages believe it is inappropriate to friend their supervisor via the social network compared to 44 percent ages 55 and older. Similarly, only 31 percent of those who log onto Facebook at least daily believe it is inappropriate to connect with one s supervisor compared to 41 percent who log on less than once per day. Of those who are not currently friends with their supervisor on Facebook, nearly six percent say that they were connected at one time. This figure rises to 10 percent among those ages Do you think it is inappropriate for a manager to be Facebook friends with someone they supervise? % 40.0% 30.0% 20.0% 10.0% 4 ICM Research June 2011 YES NO NO STRONG OPINION 0% 5

6 Executive management should seek to define the role that social bonds play in how the organization achieves its business goals and work to create a culture that brings these principles to life. Facebook friendships between supervisors and their staff originates from both parties. Of all who report being Facebook friends with their supervisor, 46 percent say they initiated the connection whereas 38 percent claim the friend request came from their supervisor. Interestingly, of men who reported they are connected to their supervisor on Facebook, 53 percent say they use the social platform to communicate in a professional context compared to only 37 percent of women. Of all Facebook users with an existing connection to their supervisor, 70 percent use such communication for social purposes. Differences emerge between genders with respect to how a Facebook connection with one s supervisor affects the ability to effectively perform on the job. Almost one-third of men who are friends with their supervisor on Facebook say their connection enables them to do their job at least somewhat more effectively. Only 15 percent of women agree that such is the case. How does Facebook communication with your supervisor impact your job performance? MALE FEMALE I can do my job significantly more effectively I can do my job somewhat more effectively It has no impact on my job 100.0% 80.0% 60.0% 40.0% 20.0% 0% 6

7 Conclusions: Five Takeaways for Managers and HR Executives Have a written social media policy. Although social media use is nearly ubiquitous among Americans, company policies regarding such communications on the job have been largely reactive. Sixty-three percent of workers in a recent ICM Research 4 study stated their organization did not have a social media policy, or if they did, they were unaware of it. Only one in four were aware of any guidance regarding posting on social media sites. For many organizations, the goals of their social media policy are twofold: to minimize risk by regulating what employees may and may not post via social media, and to improve productivity by regulating social media usage during work hours. Few organizations, however, define what constitutes a personal versus professional online presence for the purpose of regulating the latter to protect and advance company interests. Define appropriate boundaries Regulating social interactions between employees has always been a delicate subject for organizations. While some companies explicitly forbid romantic relations between employees, particularly supervisors and their direct reports, it can be difficult to legitimately define and subsequently regulate the social bonds that are formed throughout an organization. Nevertheless, managers can only benefit from earnestly exploring the extent to which social interaction benefits and threatens an organization. At a minimum, companies should have mechanisms in place that emphasize merit-based judgments and lessen the influence of social bonds in both employee evaluations and budget allocation. Executive management should seek to define the role that social bonds play in how the organization achieves its business goals and work to create a culture that brings these principles to life. Apply standards universally. Policies that govern personal interaction, whether they concern social media or employee fraternization, should apply universally throughout an organization. One of the reasons so many employees feel pressured to engage with their bosses socially, even when they prefer 7

8 not to, is that they believe the processes by which rewards are distributed, and advancement opportunities are extended, are affected by factors beyond merit. These beliefs are reinforced when standards are not applied equally to all employees. Therefore, it is imperative that any policies governing social interaction apply universally from clerical temp to CEO. IBM developed Beehive, one of the most sophisticated internal social networks to date. Don t overreact The natural response for many leaders in this digital age has been to retreat. An August 2011 study from Proskauer reported that 70 percent of all companies completely ban the use of social networking sites at work 5. Yet, as our survey found, despite significant percentages viewing the connecting of supervisor and subordinate on Facebook as inappropriate, not one individual reported adverse effects on the ability to perform their duties. While the risk of legal liability will vary by industry and should be treated seriously, management should weigh this issue carefully and, in formulating policies, focus on creating a culture that is designed to foster efficient and effective work while mitigating potential risk factors. Explore internal social networks. Increasingly, organizations are recognizing their employees growing adoption of social media tools and the utility provided. In response, many are investing significant dollars into developing internal social networks. Nationwide Insurance built an internal social network in order to improve employee loyalty and forge a stronger, more cohesive corporate identity. Within the first ten months, 40 percent of C-suite executives were active participants, posting questions, relevant articles, and engaging in two-way conversations with their employees through the network. To date, more than 14,000 associates have joined the network, with 30 percent functioning as active contributors. 5 Social Networks in the Workplace Around the World Proskauer August 2011 Home Depot created The Warehouse, an internal social network, to serve has a hub for internal communication, communicating innovative new ideas and discussing company best practices. Used by retail and corporate associates alike, The Warehouse helps Home Depot more quickly understand and formulate solutions to new business challenges. In addition, The Warehouse helps facilitate internal benchmarking, which ultimately shapes and standardizes business processes. 8

9 Russell Herder is a creative marketing and research firm, with a 28-year history of providing Strategy Wins. integrated strategic solutions for industry leaders across the United States. RH provides online reputation monitoring, creative development, and in-depth market research. To download this report or others in the Thought Leader series, visit russellherder.com/research or call IBM developed Beehive, one of the most sophisticated internal social networks to date. With an interface that bears more than a passing similarity to Facebook, users (also known as bees ) can create a profile, post pictures, update statuses, tag photos and organize events. Participation on Beehive is rewarded with bee points that designate users as a new bee, a working bee, a busy bee or a super bee. The goal of the network, which now boasts 30,000 wusers, was to create a sense of intimacy and community that might otherwise be impossible to achieve in an organization of IBM s size. Organizations have been quick to embrace the ability of internal social networks to break down geographical and organizational divisions as well as boost productivity and morale. That said, there is much room for improvement. In a survey of business technology professionals, 35 percent cited user adoption as the greatest challenge in managing their organization s internal social networking platform 6. 6 InformationWeek Analytics Report November

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