By Josh Day
Social networking in the workplace might not be such a bad thing, according to a recently published Baylor academic study.
The academic case-study, published in November, was co-written by two Baylor Professors and one current Washington State University lecturer.
It found that social networks had clear, positive benefits in the workplace.
“We found that social networks blur the boundary between work life and social life and that this boundary blurring creates positive emotions for the employees that use the system,” the study said.
In 2007, a large financial institution, called the pseudonym “SWBank” in the case-study, implemented their own internal social networking site in order to better connect their new hires.
“The IT employees traveled hundreds of miles away. They wanted them to stay in touch with each other, just like a college student.” study co-author and Baylor professor Dr. Hope Koch said.
The study began in 2008, soon after the company’s classroom presentation to Baylor students.
“They were telling Baylor students about their IT department and the organization and they told that they had an ‘internal Facebook,’” said Dr. Koch.
After the presentation, Ester Gonzales, at the time a Baylor Ph.D. student, suggested to Dr. Koch and Dorothy Leidner, a Baylor professor of information systems that the company’s “internal Facebook” would be a interesting object for academic study.
In 2008 the three began gathering data about employees affected by the internal social network by scheduling interviews, attended meeting and job fairs, and occasionally eating with them.
They found that its workplace’s specialized internal social networking website led to a better sense of commitment and a higher morale among the new employees who used it.
Over time, the social network became a way for the new employees to build a network of relationships, which shifted the job of acclimating the new employees away from the mid-level managers and human resources and towards a close network of colleagues.
“They originally were consumers of the system, reading content and attending events. Over time, they actually became creators of the system and started publishing things to mentor the brand new hires,” Koch said.
One of the more surprising findings of the study was not from the new employees connected to the network, but from the mid-level managers.
Over the course of the study, they had a negative attitude when the new employees received accesses to previously unrealized ways social interaction with higher-ups, such as gaining relationships with senior executives and networking with other employees of the company.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my years of study,” Leidner said.
“The unexpected part was that you have non-users of the system, mid-level managers, being upset over the user use of the system.”
In Nov. 2012, their data and conclusions were published in the European Journal of Information Systems.
Ester Gonzales is now a Guest Lecturer at Washington State University.
For businesses who will try to use social networking in the future, Leidner had some advice.
“You have to give some freedom and flexibility, instead of trying to impose rules and regulations, which really stifles the very creativity these systems inspire,” Leidner said.