From the TUC

No Facebook in the Dinosaurs’ Den

02 Sep 2009, by in Working Life

Dragons’ Den’s judge and Chairman of Ryman stationers Theo Paphitis has a big piece in the Daily Mail today: “Why ALL bosses should copy me and ban Facebook from the workplace“. He laments that every technological revolution has a downside, and that the internet’s wonders in the field of stationery retail have been accompanied by “an orgy of self-indulgence and exhibitionism”. The only way for employers to protect themselves from staff writing about their cats during the working day is apparently a blanket ban on using Facebook at work.

I’m guessing this ban doesn’t extend to the “back room team” who maintain Theo’s own neatly manicured Facebook profile, fan page, group and so on, but even then I can’t help thinking Theo’s in need of a bit of a poke over this one.

He suggests the answer might be to allow employees to access only certain sites that could conceivably be useful to their work, “such as business information or news services”, banning the rest of the nasty, habit forming internet entirely.

This reminds me of a radio interview I did a couple of years ago for BBC Scotland, debating an employment lawyer who actually used the classic comedy boss phrase “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” to describe the average UK office employee online. Theo himself admits “I do not want to appear like some modern Mr Gradgrind”, before coming out with this one:

“The internet wasters will always try to stay one step ahead. The next big technological development is already underway, in the transfer of online activity from computers to mobile phones. In that case, restrictions on usage of workplace computers will not work on their own. So employers will have to be even tougher in future, instituting bans on the use of mobiles during working hours.”

Horrors! Has anyone told Theo that people can actually look out of windows when they could be working? Better order some blackout blinds. Might I humbly suggest there’s another way? One involving a bit of trust going both ways in the employment relationship.

Sit down with your staff or their representatives and work out a policy with them. It’s no skin off most employers’ noses to let staff use social networks to organise their personal lives during their lunch break or break times, and it’s a valuable benefit to office staff who’re likely putting in a few hours unpaid overtime anyway. Make it clear what they can access during work time and what they can’t, and you should get over the problem in an adult way.

The alternative, to tell staff you simply don’t trust them not to slack off when you’re not standing over them, is hardly going to be the best motivator in business.

And doesn’t he know the hip employees are all on Twitter now (along with his with-it co-dragon Duncan Bannatyne)? Or does he recommend managers spend their day glued to Mashable, working out which of the million and one up and coming social media tools they really need to ban next?

And this is all before wondering whether an employer who doesn’t want their staff using Facebook in the office is really positioning themselves to make the most of the opportunities for business in having a staff able to use social media effectively for their work.

The Mail are running a poll on Theo’s behalf. If you’re amused by the prospect of a Dragons’ Den rent-a-celeb banging on about putting a stop to others’ “meaningless babble and egomaniacal drivel”, why not go let them know what you think? (in your break time of course!)

UPDATE 25 Sep: Clifford Singer has the logical follow-up to this story – ban the Daily Mail at work now!

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