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Internal Social Media Sites May Improve Worker Morale, Retention

Jan. 30, 2013
While some employers might balk at the thought of their workers tweeting or checking personal Facebook feeds while on the clock, social media use at work might not be entirely detrimental. In fact, a new study suggests that encouraging employees to use a work-sponsored social networking site could improve morale and retention.

Encouraging employees to merge their work lives with their social lives by using an internal social networking site at work can reduce turnover and improve morale, engagement and organizational commitment among workers, according to a new study from Baylor University.

“For millennials, mixing their work life and their social life via an online social networking created positive emotions for the employees who use the system,” said Hope Koch, Ph.D., Baylor University associate professor of information systems in the Hankamer School of Business and study co-author. “These emotions led to more social networking and ultimately helped the employees build personal resources like social capital and organizational learning.”

Koch suggested that such social networking sites may be particularly effective when the new workers are relocating to unfamiliar areas and need to build a network, assume highly technical jobs or become integrated into a large organization where it may be difficult to know where to go for help.

Making Introductions, Social-Media Style

The study centered on a financial institution’s efforts to reduce IT employee turnover by starting a social and work-related online networking site. Under the supervision of executives, the new hires developed and managed the site’s content. Since most new hires had moved hundreds of miles to start their new jobs with the institution, they initially used the social pages as an introduction to the community. After a year or so with the organization, the more senior new hires began using the system to acclimate and mentor incoming new hires.

The internal social networking site helped the new hires build social capital in several ways, according to Koch.

“It gave them access to people who could provide useful information and new perspectives and allowed them to meet more senior new hires and executives. These relationships set the new hires at ease during work meetings, helped them understand where to go for help and increased their commitment to the financial institution’s mission,” she said.

Ironically, middle managers, even though they wanted freedom from mentoring new hires, developed a negative attitude toward online social networking when they realized that the new hires had managed to accrue social capital and social experiences with senior executives that they had not had access to in their many years of work.

The social networking system also helped the new hires maintain relationships with one another, thus facilitating a network of acquaintances that can do small favors and help build emotionally close friendships. Finally, by allowing the new hires to access information on the site, meet other new hires and develop and maintain relationships with their peer group, the financial institution was able to shift some of the burden of acclimating the new hires away from middle managers and human resources.

Despite these positive results, Koch urges organizations to proceed with caution when implementing social networking sites. In particular, she stressed that middle managers experienced frustration, isolation and envy in reaction to the sites, and the senior executives were somewhat circumspect.

“Before beginning an internal social networking initiative, organizations should consider analyzing how the system may impact both its users and non-users, paying particular attention to potential isolation of non-users and the negative stigma associated with [social networking sites] in the workplace,” she said.

The case study was published in the European Journal of Information Systems.

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