Career Management: Is Facebook Helpful or Harmful for Productivity at Work?

We’ve all been there. We need a mental break from whatever we’re doing, so we hop onto Facebook to see what’s going on in our social network. For the most part, we know when to call it quits, but on some occasions, we really need to space out from whatever we’re doing. Minutes on Facebook can easily become hours, and before we know it, we’ve wasted valuable time by doing very little. Of course, in an office setting, most of us know when to put Facebook away and direct our attention to what we need to accomplish. At the same time, it’s worthwhile to quantify how multitasking affects our professional performance. Does it hurt us, or does it actually make us more productive?

In a study led by Professor Paul Kirschner from Open University in the Netherlands, researchers explored the relationship between educational performance, Facebook, and electronic multitasking. Even though this study focused on students rather than professionals, the conclusion was that “constant task-switching…extends the amount of time needed to carry out tasks and leads to more mistakes.” The study surveyed 219 students between the ages of 19 and 54. The result was that Facebook users had an average GPA of 3.06/4.0, while non-Facebook users had an average GPA of 3.82. Non-Facebook users also, on average, spent 88 percent more time studying when not in class.

A few questions come into mind when analyzing this study: (1) is the sample size large enough to demonstrate enough variation in population—that is, how people think & process information in addition to what people are studying and (2) How much time, on average, did students spend on Facebook? While Kirschner draws a general conclusion – that constant task-switching is tough for people—it is questionable whether these results are equally applicable to students as they are to working professionals. As most adults in the working world know, different tasks require different levels of attention. For example, it’s probably easier to browse Facebook when you’re brainstorming ideas for your next project than when you’re writing a detailed business plan.

From a business perspective, any analysis of Facebook needs to be nuanced and detailed. Overall, it may not be effective to block out Facebook altogether. In actuality, Facebook can actually improve an employee’s efficiency on the job. Facebook, at its essence, it a giant network that is filled with ongoing, real-time conversations. These properties allow employees to remain connected to a number of people and to stay up to date on industry conversations. In an instant, users can reach out to anyone and everyone while receiving updates on what’s going on in different industries and the rest of the world. Any employee and employer should understand how important it is to tie your own work into the bigger picture.

One study by the Australian University revealed that Facebook can actually improve productivity in the workplace. Short mental health breaks can actually help people concentrate over the long term. On the other hand, people with “addiction tendencies” may see a decrease in productivity.

With companies spending large sums of money on installing software that blocks Facebook and other social networking sites, this debate has practical applications. Are companies wasting time and money by blocking out Facebook, or is it an effective strategy?

Even when we see studies that analyze the effects of Facebook, we need to take a step back and ask detailed questions about what’s actually going on—especially if we’re making decisions for ourselves.

Photo Credit: _Max-B