Provide distractions to Gen Y at work?

If human multitasking is a fantasy, why would anyone give Generation Y employees access to distractions at work?

While I was presenting in May, a CEO in the audience related information about a productivity expert promoting human multitasking and providing “Generation Y” with the distractions they want while at the office. You may have followed my blog postings the past two weeks about the disruption of interruptions and the idea of human multitasking.

There is indeed literature promoting what I would call the “distracted work environment” in an effort to attract the “best and brightest” young employees.

I guess I’m old-fashioned, and I’m taking the stand that the “best and brightest” employees will not want to be distracted while performing their duties on the job. From an IT security perspective, this access can be devastating to your business.

The CEO in the audience feels that in order for Gen Y employees to be happy, employers need to provide them access to social media all day long to use at the worker’s discretion. He cited examples of the work environments at Google and other Internet companies. I wonder how many other employers tell themselves it is “ok” to provide distractions to workers.

For Google, and even the marketing professionals at your own organization, it makes sense—even to me—for them to access social media at work since that is part of their job!

To me, promoting social media for non-work-related tasks makes as much sense as keeping a carton of cigarettes readily available and constantly restocked at the desk of someone who is trying to stop smoking.  Sounds more like temptation and torture than being supportive of someone achieving their goal.

I believe in workers feeling happy based on a “job well done” and my appreciation for their accurate and productive work. I believe there are members of Generation Y who take pride in their work and perform to the best of their abilities. I feel it is the employer’s responsibility to provide them with a productive work environment—free of distractions.

Isn’t it enough that the employees can have their own smart phone or other device right next to their desk and use that for their distractions? Need we, as employers, provide the same distraction using a larger screen on company owned equipment? No, you do not—at least not in the summer of 2010. The inappropriate access for non-work-related social media access results in too much lost productivity and too risky for IT security.

You may have seen the short comedy video a wonderful video production firm created for The Foster Institute, Inc. demonstrating the internet misuse that may be going on in your organization. The theme of the video is an office romance gone awry.

One of the more enjoyable parts of blogging is stirring up some controversy, so please post your comments on the blog.


7 Comments

  • Toronto Dentist :) June 24, 2010 at 5:44 am - Reply

    I totally agree with your stand. It’s time theft.

    I had a growing group of Facebook addicts on my team who began abusing the privilege of internet access. So I cut off all but a handful of our computers.

    Much groaning ensued, while work productivity and teamwork went up.

    • Mike Foster June 24, 2010 at 6:45 am - Reply

      Thank you for your perspective. I’ve heard similar comments from many of my clients and I appreciate your feedback through your blog posting. I look forward to other comments too – maybe even some people who are “for” allowing the access to social media – so we can all share ideas and learn something new.

  • Dave Kinnear June 24, 2010 at 9:22 am - Reply

    Mike, thanks as always for great post and thoughts.

    I’m somewhere in the middle on this between “lock it all down and keep them from stealing time,” and “full open to do what they want when they want.”

    I believe in doing the best we can do develop “ROWE” organizations – Results Only Work Environment. I’m convinced that the workplace of the future for many of our knowledge workers will be remote, so we will have little control over exactly what they do. As long as they are completing the work assigned in a timely, accurate and innovative way, I could not care less if they spend an hour on facebook.

    However, from a data security point of view, we can and must make sure that we lock things down to avoid security leaks. You are very instrumental in showing us how to do that and it’s much appreciated. So for me, tightening the system for security reasons is really the only driving force behind limiting employees access. Developing a ROWE organization is a force driving me toward an open system. I’m almost always somewhere in the middle based on the pull of these two forces.

    Dave Kinnear
    Executive Coach

    • Mike Foster June 24, 2010 at 3:25 pm - Reply

      Thank you Dave!

      I’m in 100% agreement that results are what are most important. If users can have free access to social media and also get the results, then that’s all that really matters. I’m not sure if I understand how that is possible – but it is ok if I don’t understand. The results will speak for themselves.

      I like your point about remote workers. I find one of the reasons more workers are not remote yet is because of this productivity issue – or at least management expecting there will be issues with productivity if workers are allowed to work remotely. Also, even at the office if social media is blocked, the employee can whip out their web enabled mobile phone and bypass the blocking – though someone might notice the employee spending a lot of time using their phone.

      To me, as long as workers are paid based on their production instead of being paid per hour or salaried, then I see the point you make about the only reason to block social media is a security risk. Maybe a HR risk too since an employee might file a lawsuit based on something they see on a coworker’s screen. On the other hand, while workers are salaried or paid by the hour, I see social media as a huge danger to the livelihood and profitability of an organization. I may be wrong.

      For workers on a farm harvesting vegetables, it is easy to pay them based on how many vegetables they harvest. For other jobs, it becomes more difficult to monitor the productivity and pay accordingly. I like how car repair firms do it. They look up a car’s make, model, and year and they know just how many “units” to charge for the labor to perform any operation on the car from replacing the transmission to fixing the windshield wiper motor. Mechanics are paid accordingly, and customers are billed a markup. I used a similar model charging for computer repairs when I ran an outsourced IT firm in the 90’s. Then, I didn’t worry about my employees spending time on other tasks besides work – I knew they weren’t being paid for wasted time nor were clients being charged. If the employee failed to deliver in a timely manner, I could retrain, and if that didn’t work, replace them with an employee who would. I am interested to learn more about the ROWE model.

      Please keep enlightening me – I find this helpful.

  • Howard Goldman June 24, 2010 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Why would people do any better multitasking at work than do multitasking while driving? The only difference is that multitasking at most jobs, while reducing one’s performance, is in general a lot less likely to kill others.

    • Mike Foster June 24, 2010 at 2:31 pm - Reply

      That’s exactly how I feel. I am trying to keep an open mind – especially because my audiences tell me there is a speaker on the circuit that says, if you do not provide free access to social media at work, you cannot attract or retain Generation Y employees. I want to learn more becuase I am not certain what the speaker is saying is true – or I’m getting the wrong information.

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