A study recently showed that people who were allowed to use Facebook at work were actually more productive than those who weren’t. As astonishing as this sounds there might be some underlying reasons for this that sit at the heart of productivity. So let’s take a look at why his might happen and then what we can learn from it.
There are a number of conditions under which people are more productive and seem to work better. When I say work, I mean the sort of work that characterizes the information age. That is, creative thinking, problem solving and working smarter, not harder.
Being able to access Facebook during work hours helps to satisfy two of these conditions – autonomy and belonging.
Autonomy – having control over our own resources
It has been shown countless times that when people feel a sense of control or autonomy, they are better able to control stress, problem solve and think critically. Control over resources is important. When budgets are micromanaged and heavily prescribed, there isn’t a team in the world that doesn’t say “Heck! Why don’t they just give us the money and let us spend it the way we need to? We know better than anyone how to use the budget to its best effect!”
This holds true for most resources, including time. When we allow people to use their time how they want – without micromanaging or telling them what they can do and when – we might actually see them make better use of their time.
Most employees feel that they are experts at what they do – they do it every day – so they know how to best use their time. But is Facebook-ing the best use of time? If they’re using it to disconnect and recharge for a moment before working at high intensity again, then it could well be.
Belonging – Facebook feeds social connectedness
Social support and feeling connected to people is a major contributor to productivity. When people have a feeling of social support and connectedness, they are better able to handle stress and a decrease in stress leads to an increase in productivity. Take for example people who are about to undergo surgery. When people are merely able to hold the hand of someone they care about, the stress reaction (characterized by heart rate, blood pressure and the level of stress hormones) decreases dramatically.
Connecting with people with whom we feel safe also has a positive effect on problem solving and creativity. Simply conversing with other people helps provide a different perspective on a problem and can often be the seed that creates a new solution. This happens even when we’re not talking about the specific problem in question – in fact sometimes that works even more effectively.
But won’t people abuse the privilege?
Sure some people will. But most people are pretty reasonable. In many situations where people are given control of a precious resource, they tend to treat it fairly responsibly. In one particular study, they compared patients with chronic pain and divided them into two groups. One group had to call a nurse to administer their painkillers, while the other group was able to self-administer their drugs. Contrary to expectations, the patients who were allowed to self-medicate used less of the drug. Amazingly, they also reported feeling less pain. Might this be another by-product of a feeling of autonomy?
So, what can we learn from this?
Well, the real lesson is that if we can create a feeling of autonomy and belonging then we get more productive people. Facebook might be just one example of this.
But the other lesson is this: we often make rules for the sake of those people who might offend. We make blanket rules because we think that one or two people might do the wrong thing if we give them a chance. Start making rules that satisfy the people who will do the right thing – and then manage the people that don’t.
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