On Sunday, New York magazine posted a profile of a Stuyvesant High School senior who claimed he earned $72 million playing the stock market “during his lunch breaks.” On Tuesday, Mohammed Islam fessed up to his hoax in an interview with the New York Observer.
This is the latest example of a respected publication getting it wrong (see last week’s Knight Canney Group blog), but it’s also an intriguing example of how we could truly believe that someone used his lunch breaks to amass a fortune. After all, a hoodie-wearing college kid built and ran a campus social network out of his dorm room and now Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook pretty much have all the money.
Still, the image of a young man in the high school cafeteria, using his laptop (tablet, smartphone, phablet?) to become fabulously rich is a stark counterpoint to the cliché of slacker employees who use the Internet during work hours to:
- Order Xbox One Assassin’s Creed from GameStop
- Play World of Warcraft
- “Like” Audi on Facebook to win a $120,000 R8 sports car – which, it turns out, is yet another scam
True slacker employees always will find ways to, you know, slack: smoke breaks, coffee breaks, lewd use of the photocopier, and hanging around colleagues’ cubicles. Unlike twenty years ago, however, instead of faxing NSFW Polaroid snapshots, employees simply email, photo share, or Snapchat digital NSFW selfies.
But, as tempting as it may be to try to limit your employees’ use of the Internet (and particularly social media), the benefits of a more liberal policy generally outweigh the disadvantages.
For starters, limiting Internet usage is counter-productive. Job site Monster.com lists it as the first reason not to limit employees’ access to social media in the workplace:
1. Blocking social media access is a costly exercise that simply doesn’t work.
2. Use of social media doesn’t necessarily adversely affect productivity.
3. There are advantages to allowing employees to use social media sites.
And, perhaps, most important:
4. The future of business is a networked future. Employers who figure out the right balance will be more competitive. Those that don’t will be left behind.
Shel Holtz, a social media and communications expert who wrote the Monster.com essay, elaborates that one trade-off business leaders need to recognize is that employees are always accessible via cell phone, email, and social media. Plus they use those platforms to keep in touch with work at night, on weekends, and during vacations. So, some slack for the slackers is only fair.
The goal should be to encourage your employees to use social media to benefit their lives as well as to benefit your business. For example:
- Employees promote their participation – and your company’s sponsorship of – the upcoming charity 5K.
- Employees post photos of work-related activities (such as the annual Chanukah/Christmas/Kwanzaa/Festivus party) to burnish your company’s reputation as a cool place to work.
- Employees’ positive posts about your company create credibility.
You should, of course, have a clear and consistent policy about negative posts – say, rants about how bad the commissary food is or how high the health insurance co-pays are. That policy needs to exist in concert with a responsive internal mechanism where employees’ concerns are heard. Complaints about rules, procedures, bosses, and coworkers need to be addressed in a timely manner, before employees feel the need to turn their frustrations into your social media crisis. There will always be those for whom the outcome is unsatisfactory. That’s when the clear and consistent policy about negative posts comes in.
It may be unlikely that your employees will use their lunch breaks to accumulate $72 million. But it would be beneficial to foster a work climate that recognizes that employees want to spend part of their workday posting, commenting, liking, and surfing online.
Channeling that activity to contribute to the success of your business will be the challenging part.