Last reviewed 3 April 2019

Social media and online networking carried out across sites including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat amongst others, is regarded as a normal, everyday feature of nearly all adult lives. While most individuals are capable of monitoring and restricting their own usage to levels they are happy to continue, there are some individuals who may be experiencing negative health impacts due to their ever increasing need to use social media.

The business case

While there has long been a common perception that personal matters are to be ignored and dealt with by employees during their personal time, managers are increasingly recognising the importance of providing workplace support and understanding across all areas, including personal matters This is because those factors that affect an employee outside of work can have a resulting detrimental impact while they are at work.

With social media addictions becoming more common, managers may witness the real and serious consequences of this on their staff. Ranging from a loss of productivity or quality as employees lose focus when carrying out their tasks to “quickly check” their social media accounts, to serious health and safety risks caused by employees suffering from tiredness or fatigue caused as a consequence of their addiction affecting sleeping patterns.

Providing addiction support

Managers and employers alike are not going to be healthcare or addiction experts. It may be more harmful for a manager to start providing addiction advice or intervention when this is not suitable and may actually make matters worse. On the other hand, simply leaving the matter to continue unaddressed will be just as harmful.

Workplace support can be positively offered by holding a meeting with the employee to discuss whether they have any concerns. It can be mentioned here that their manager has identified signs of potential social media addiction and wishes to remind the employee of what support is available. Any internal counselling or wellbeing support, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, can be highlighted here, as well as signposting towards external support such as counselling or addiction groups.

Using workplace rules

Most organisations will use a social media and internet policy to set out their workplace rules on this matter. Alternative policies may also include a personal mobile phone or device policy. These policies will generally state whether employees can use personal devices during working hours, if particular use is allowed such as during emergencies, and whether there are any rules regarding phones being placed out of sight or permitted on workspaces.

Where rules around mobile phone and social media use during working hours are clearly outlined, and reiterated to staff, managers can actively monitor whether there are any issues within their teams. If most staff are happy with these rules and appear to have no problem in complying with them, it is likely that your staff have a healthy relationship with social media. Alternatively, where one particular employee is often spotted on their phone and has been reminded of the rules, or even disciplined in the past, this may indicate a problem that can then be discussed with the individual.

Promoting down time

The ever-increasing use of technology has led to habits forming which could be contributing towards an employee’s addiction towards mobile phone or social media usage. This may be, for example, feeling pressured to check emails or messages constantly, whether in or outside of work, or to have a mobile device accessible and on their person at all times. While certain aspects of the job may make this a requirement, especially in round-the-clock operations, there are measures employers can consider to help employees experience time away from devices.

Having a ”switch off” or ”right to disconnect’” policy whereby employees are actively encouraged to leave work emails or messages that are received outside of their working hours is one such measure. The detrimental impact of being required to answer emails during personal time has been recognised in France where there is now a legal right to avoid responding to these emails. Having an internal policy that states work matters should not be dealt with outside of working hours, and no detriment will be faced for failing to answer work emails or messages, will encourage employees to use their personal time to rest and relax, while encouraging limited mobile phone usage.

Down time may also be provided during working hours and at the place of work. Methods can include providing ”distraction free” desks where staff members cannot use personal or work mobile phones but are, instead, encouraged to focus on completing tasks. Not only does this take away the distraction of being able to access social media, it can also cut down on the number of colleagues who are being distracted by incessant or loud mobile phone usage.

Quiet rooms can also be provided as a breakout space for employees, whether these are used during break times or as a thinking space. Again, this removes the opportunity an employee has to feed their social media addiction and they can use this time to focus their thoughts on work-related matters, or as downtime to relax their mind.

Potential advantages

Where staff don’t have a social media addiction and are simply interested in, or enjoy using, networking sites, managers may consider using this to their advantage. For example, a particularly tech savvy employee who enjoys using social media might wish to undertake this as part of their role, helping to update and grow the organisation’s online and social presence. Other employees might have suggestions of how you can improve your social media content or reach, with organisations encouraged to ask for suggestions from staff in order to increase employee engagement and embrace new initiatives internally.