An increasing percentage of employees are logging in to Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks during the workday, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center. But it's not all for personal reasons; many workers are using social media on the job for work-related purposes, the study found.
"Today's workers incorporate social media into a wide range of activities while on the job," the study's authors wrote. "Some of these activities are explicitly professional or job-related, while others are more personal in nature."
The two most popular reasons employees use social media at work are not related to their jobs. Of the employees who use social media in the office, 34 percent do so to take a mental break from their job, and 27 percent use it to connect with family and friends, the study found.
Other reasons workers are signing in to social networks are much more related to their job. The study found that 24 percent of the employees who have used social media at work have done so to make or support professional connections, and 20 percent use it to get information that solves problems at work. Overall, 34 percent of the employees survyed use social media for work-related purposes. [See Related Story: Turning Employees into Social Media Ambassadors ... Gently]
Some of the other popular reasons employees use social media at work include the following: to learn more about co-workers, to build personal relationships with colleagues and to ask people outside their organizations work-related questions.
Using social networks to learn more about co-workers does come with a downside, however. The research showed that 16 percent of workers have found information on social media that has lowered their professional opinion of a colleague. On the flip side, 14 percent have discovered information that has improved their perception of a colleague.
"The transparency that social media facilitates comes with costs as well as benefits," the study's authors wrote.
Facebook is the most popular social network for employees. The study found that 19 percent of workers have used Facebook for a work-related purpose, whereas 14 percent have turned to LinkedIn for a work-related purpose and just 3 percent have used Twitter for work.
The research also found that 9 percent of employees use a social media tool that's provided by their employer.
Workers say there are many positives to using social media in the office. For example, nearly 80 percent of employees who log on to a social network for work-related purposes believe it is a useful tool for networking or finding new job opportunities, while 71 percent think it is useful for staying in touch with others in their industry.
In addition, 51 percent think social media helps them get to know their co-workers on a personal basis, while 46 percent said it is useful for finding information they need to do their job.
However, employees did say there were some negatives to using social media on the job.
"On the other hand, these workers are divided on the utility of social media in other respects, especially when it comes to the impact of social media use on their own job performance," the study's authors wrote.
Fifty-six percent of the employees surveyed who use social media for work-related purposes think doing so distracts them from the assignment and projects they need to do.
In the end, however, most workers think the positives outweigh the negatives. More than half of those surveyed think using social media ultimately helps their job performance, and only 22 percent believe it mostly hurts their job performance.
Organizations are recognizing how popular social media is becoming in the workplace, and thus are developing policies surrounding its use. More than half of the employees surveyed said their employer has a policy about social media use at work.
"There is some evidence that workplace policies concerning social media use while on the job may have an effect," the study's authors wrote.
A significantly smaller percentage of workers whose employer has a workplace social media policy log on while at work to take a mental break or connect with friends and family.
The study, which also looked at social media use among all Americans, was based on surveys of 2,003 U.S. residents, 795 of whom were employed on a full- or part-time basis.