Posted by: garispang | April 25, 2009

Who Cares If Employees Spend Too Much Time Online?

We talk in Human Resources quite a bit about employee engagement and its connection to performance. Usually this happens at conferences or seminars with a lot of important people wearing very nice suits that are paid large sums of money to talk about employee engagement and performance. We sit there and nod our head. It all makes sense. We’re with you. You earned your speaking fee.

When we go back to work though, we hear about a problem with one of our highest performing employees. She’s on social networking sites for two hours a day (sometimes more) yet she outperforms the next best performer by 5%. You are immediately conflicted. This person is our best performer on six hours or less of work a day. What does this mean?

1. What are the rest of your employees doing that they can’t outperform a person working 75% of the time?
2. What is this employee doing so well that they can get away with being on social networking for two hours a day and still outperform her peers?
3. What could this employee be doing if they worked all eight hours?
4. Does this person deserve a reprimand, a raise or something else?

Managers and HR so often go straight for number four (and the reprimand portion of it) rather than examining the other three possibilities. It is much easier to take care of the “problem employee.”

So who cares about this high performing employee on internet for hours a day? Well, I do. And really, I am more interested in seeing exactly how they are performing at a high level while screwing around or if social networking is actually helping them work better. It isn’t a terribly difficult argument to make. High performers have different needs. Many NBA players watch a lot of movies. Like, probably more movies in a month than I’ll watch in a year. They could be practicing or using the time for extra training but if your mind and body are already in peak physical shape, your mind and body just needs time to decompress. A movie works for that purpose.

So a person can be a high performer and be disengaged at least part of the day. I don’t think that is a problem as I think most people disengage from their day using a variety of techniques. These just are rarely examined because looking at social networking’s impact on the workplace is sexy.

Of course, many people who participate heavily in social networking also are mediocre to poor performers too. That I care about more. Not because of the social networking portion but because of the performance portion. I am concerned about all performance issues though.

So do you care about an employee’s internet use as much (or more) than their performance? Do you believe that engagement is a key to performance?

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