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UIHC right to bar employees from using Facebook and Twitter at work

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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Starting this week, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics will block access to social-network sites on workstation computers.

Sites such as Twitter and Facebook have become tools for employers to promote and market their businesses, and we understand their importance in our media-infused society. However, the UIHC was right to block these sites as a way to ensure productivity.

On Feb. 26, Kenneth Kates, the associate vice president for the UIHC, sent a hospital-wide e-mail explaining the new restriction. “UI Health Care continues to support an open work environment,” he wrote in the e-mail. “However, viewing inappropriate websites for non-work-related purposes consumes employee time and organizational resources.”

Furthermore, he expressed concern that access to social media “creates the potential for a negative experience for patients, visitors, employees, and students.”

UIHC isn’t alone in banning the sites. A 2009 study developed by a consulting firm Robert Half Technology found that 54 percent of companies with 100 or more employees block social networks “completely,” and only 19 percent allow them for “business purposes.” The survey included responses from 1,400 chief information officers.

Rachel McLaren, a UI assistant professor of communication studies, said that while people like their social breaks during the day, problems relating to social networks can arise.

“It could get really out of hand and people could get distracted,” she told the Editorial Board.

“People could post things that are sensitive and disclose information that they shouldn’t. Employers want to watch out for that.”

According to a study by Proofpoint, an Internet security firm, 17 percent of companies with 1,000 or more employees have had problems with employee use of social media. And 8 percent of those companies have dismissed someone for her or his behavior on a social-media site such as Facebook.

Companies have the right to increase productivity by limiting or blocking access to certain time-consuming websites. And hospitals have the obligation to make patient care a priority. At best, social-network sites distract employees. At worst, they can conflict with patients’ privacy. This could occur, for example, if an employee Tweeted about or discussed patients on her or his Facebook account.

If the Editorial Board has an issue with this restriction, it is the immediacy of its implementation.

The rule change is now in effect, after UIHC officials notified employees just last week. A temporary period of adjustment could have been beneficial, and it would have allowed employees to work on changing their behavior for the better. The grace period could have prevented potential frustration over this decision.

Social-media sites can be used to vent or express dissatisfaction about company policies or other employees. Irresponsible use of this technology can hurt company morale and could possibly cause patients to worry about their care. Social networking should never be the method or transport of information that is crude, disrespectful, or damaging to someone’s reputation. Because of this, UIHC is right to be concerned with employees’ behavior.

For those that think a complete ban on social networks is too extensive and overbearing, there were alternatives. UIHC officials could have given a seminar or workshop concerning the proper use of Twitter or Facebook. They could have emphasized the need to be careful and prudent about time spent on social-media sites, instead of instituting an outright ban.

Still, proper etiquette should be a standard for all companies the size of UIHC. Officials’ decision to ban social media during work hours may have been a strong move. But we’re confident the decision will increase productivity and allay the worries of nervous patients.


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