The “work vs. blogging” thread is becoming the “meme that would not die.” I’ve covered it several times in the past, though not for a while. This time, however, the story seems to have changed a bit. It’s not the usual tale of someone being fired for blogging, or not getting a job because of their blog. Employers are starting to action about the amount of time employees spend reading blogs (as well as blogging) in the workplace.
Naturally, any employer wants their employees to spend most, if not all, of their time engaged in activities that increase the “bottom line.” Just as naturally, most people who spend as much, if not more, time at work as they do at home are looking distractions from the daily grind. For the latter, blogs are an easy and entertaining distraction. For the former blogs are a serious threat to productivity, because of the amount of time spent on them. An Ad Age report suggests that we’ll spend 551,000 “work years” (reg. req’d. try BugMeNot.Com) reading blogs on the job this year.
Blog this: U.S. workers in 2005 will waste the equivalent of 551,000 years reading blogs.
Currently, the time employees spend reading non-work blogs is the quivalent of 2.3 million jobs.
About 35 million workers — one in four people in the labor force — visit blogs and on average spend 3.5 hours, or 9%, of the work week engaged with them, according to Advertising Age’s analysis. Time spent in the office on non-work blogs this year will take up the equivalent of 2.3 million jobs. Forget lunch breaks — bloggers essentially take a daily 40-minute blog break.
I can believe it. I’ve even been there, before I got my current blogging-related job. If you ask me, the amount of time spent blogging or reading blogs at work probably speaks to the reality that a great many of us spend eight-or-more hours a day toiling away at jobs that don’t interest, challenge, or inspire us; maybe even a majority. But that’s a post for another day, and most employers would say that’s not their problem. If you don’t like your job, go find another and quit wasting their time. Well, really it’s your time that you’ve sold to them for a salary. But, again, that’s another discussion for another day.
Meanwhile, some employers are cutting off the discussion by cutting off access to blogs from the office.
Robert Mason (not his real name) would love to spend a few minutes during lunch catching up on blog posts from around the web, but his company doesn’t allow it. The financial institution where Mason works as a vice president has security filters set up to block access to — among other things — any website that contains the phrase “blog” in the URL.
What’s more, says Mason, such practices are becoming prevalent in corporate America, particularly in financial services. Mason sits on a roundtable privacy group of 20 of the country’s largest banks. “My best understanding is that my company’s anti-blog stance is the industry norm,” he says.
Filtering out every blog isn’t a completely feasible project (and, in fact, Mason says his company’s filter doesn’t catch everything), but the technology to censor the lion’s share of blogs is fairly commonplace. From installing simple URL filters and content scanners to blacklisting ranges of IP addresses, myriad methods for shutting out blog content are available.
For companies, this is tricky territory. On the one hand they want to protect productivity, and thus the bottom line. They also want to guard against employees leaking confidential (and possibly detrimental) information in an online forum or blog comments. However, the blogosphere is increasingly a preferred medium for the exchange of information, including information about various corporations and their products. There can be a big payoff for companies that mine the blogosphere for information. And there are huge pitfalls awaiting those who ignore the blogging medium, just ask Kryptonite or Kensington.
That’s why I think companies that completely lock their employees out of the blogosphere during business hours are doing themselves a disservice, particularly if they don’t have someone in-house dedicated to full-time blog-watching (my guess is that most don’t), because their employees can be their eyes and ears on the blogosphere. At the very least, and employee that stumbles across a blog post or comment about her company and /or its products may be able to alert the powers that be, and get a rapid response going. At best, she might be able to serve as a voice for the company and bring the company into the ongoing conversation.
Besides, it doesn’t sound like all that much time is being “wasted” on blogging and blog-reading if you put it in perspective.
Hard and detailed data on blogging time is limited, so Ad Age’s analysis is a best-guess extrapolation done by reviewing blog-related surveys and data. By Ad Age estimates:
Work time spent reading and posting to blogs this year will consume 2.2% of U.S. labor force hours.
Work time spent at blogs unrelated to work will eat up 1.65% of labor force hours.
Based on those percentages, it doesn’t sound like blogging and blog-reading will mean the demise of productivity and the death of American capitalism. It sounds more like American workers are integrating one more thing into their workdays. Blogs and blogging are, for most people, still a relatively new. And, as with any new development that makes demands on our time, there’s bound to be a certain degree of hand-wringing. If you put it in perspective, it seems that blog-blocking business are throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.
Remember when email first became a part of everyday life? There was a fair amount of hand-wringing and worrying about the amount of time workers might spend writing and sending personal emails, but writing or responding to a personal email takes less time than might be spent on a personal phone call. The same goes for instant messaging. Five minutes spent purchasing something on Amazon takes less time than shopping on a lunch break. And, after reading or writing a blog post, it’s a shorter distance back to the workspace than from the water cooler.
In time, blogging and blog-reading will lose their novelty and become woven into the workday in the same way that email, cell phones and Blackberrys have become so integrated into our lives that we now spend more of our lives working (even if we’re not at work) than ever before. It also means we take more of our lives to work with us than ever before. Need an employee to take care of a quick task in the evening, from home, after business hours? Fine, but don’t get bent out of shape when he/she spends some time in catching up on non-work-related tasks. It’s all about balance
In the long run, employers that take a deep breath and aim for a balanced view of working and blogging will be glad they did in the long run. And so will their employees.