How to manage employees in the age of social media


Have you ever been to the grocery store or the gas station and had the clerk talk on their cell phone or text a message while trying to take care of you?

It has happened to me and you’ve probably had it happen to you or maybe witnessed it happen to someone else.

Have you seen your employees do this? If so, have you considered the potential negative impacts on productivity?

The use of cell phones has multiplied faster than we can imagine. It seems as though everyone has one (or as my 7-year-old son believes, needs one) and many feel this urge to talk on it continuously.

Costly to the employer

Talking on a cell phone or sending text messages while on the clock is costly to the employer and can potentially be dangerous.

Many employees think they can multitask, but the ability to do so is compromised when they are talking to their friend, wife, husband, girlfriend, etc., about what they did the night before or what they are planning for the weekend.

A 2005 research study conducted by Hewlett-Packard and the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London “found excessive use of technology reduced workers’ intelligence. Those distracted by incoming e-mail and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ — more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana.”

In another study, researchers at the University of California at Irvine monitored interruptions among workers.

“They found that workers took an average of 25 minutes to recover from interruptions such as phone calls or answering e-mail and return to their original task.”

The job of milking cows is one that requires strict attention to detail. Forgetting to check for mastitis, dip teats or having milk from a treated cow enter the tank can cost the farm thousands.

Other jobs like operating a skid loader, hauling wagons on roadways or driving a combine through a corn field are important jobs that can cause injury or death if the operator is talking or sending text messages.

As the owner, you understand the negatives associated with allowing employees to talk on cell phones or send text messages when they are supposed to be working. So what can you do to correct problem employees?

The best way to handle the situation is to have a written employee handbook that specifically addresses this issue. Some employers simply state that using a cell phone during working hours is grounds for instant termination, while others provide guidelines for their use, for example during breaks or at specified locations.

Disciplinary procedure

When employees violate these policies, there needs to be a disciplinary procedure in place. For example, the first violation is a verbal warning, the second a written warning and the third is an automatic termination.

For some employers, hourly employees who violate the policy are sent home without pay for the remainder of their shift.

Because many of us have become so attached to our cell phones, it wouldn’t be surprising for employees to resist your attempts at restricting their use during work hours. Explain to employees that personal safety and productivity are concerns for restricting their use during work hours.

During breaks

If your policy allows for their use during breaks, explain to employees that messages can be checked at those times and calls returned.

In some instances it may be reasonable for employees to carry personal cell phones to communicate with one another when they need help. Examples might include finding a down cow, assisting with a breakdown or knowing when the next wagon will be to the field when harvesting.

Although an added expense, another option to allow employees to communicate is for the farm to provide radios.

The age of social media can be frustrating to employers, but with some planning and written policies it can be managed. It’s hard to believe we survived all these years without the communication technology available today.

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