The Digital Benefit

After yesterday’s news about ESPN limited its employees to tweet only about ESPN, I decided to write this post for all the HR pro’s, the suits and the clock watchers of the world. 

Offer the digital benefit or lose the upcoming war for talent. 

A few years ago, a talented engineer once told me that the only benefit from working at the office was free coffee and dependable T-1 connectivity.  While that might sound ridiculous, his statement is a reflection of a new expectation at work: The Surf Break. 

Remember the cigarette break?  Usually a smoker got/gets 4-6 10 minute breaks a day for his or her habit.  Take that away, and withdrawal sets in and job satisfaction likely wanes.  The same goes with access to social media or the internet.  Last week I was visiting an ad agency and one of the execs explained to me that IT blocks Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube so employees “can focus on their job.”  

I asked, are these hourly employees? Nope, all salaried.  Do they answer emails and do some work from home?  Sure, if they want to keep up.  Doesn’t really sound fair or modern does it?  I don’t care, said the exec, I don’t want people goofing off on-the-clock.  Wait a minute, I objected, you said they aren’t paid by the hour.  And so the fruitless conversation went.  

Then I shocked him with reality: Your employees can still tweet, check Facebook and watch videos…on their phones — using 3G.  The difference, I explained, is that now they are getting glacial speed and it takes three to five times longer to do simple things like check your feed, messages, etc.  So, I concluded, you are actually causing them to waste time.  

This isn’t the only issue, though.  Think about how cutoff you feel from the outside world when you get on a plane.  What if you had that problem every day during business hours?  Talk about disconnected in the age of connection.  Furthermore, I think the my social streams are much richer with breaking news and relevant business content that or Google, etc.  Take that away and I’m going through my day with less information.  If I were a recruiter, I’d take note of my competitors that had draconian IT policies and compete for young talent making this point very clear.  

The ultimate mistake in taking away the digital benefit for fear of abuse is that leaders are choosing to use policy to drive performance — instead of managing performance in the first place!  For example, business intelligence software company SAS Institute doesn’t have a sick day policy (number of days allowed with pay, etc.).  Their culture says, “if you are sick, stay home.  If you can’t do your job over time, we’ll have to let you go.” In other words, their managers walk-around, talk to their people and manage performance with motivation, inspiration, direction and recognition. 

Taking away internet access to anything, besides unlawful or indecent content, to ensure performance is an old-school approach to the age old problem of gold bricking.  Just like corporal punishment is an old-school approach to influencing behavior.