Employees are talking, but are managers listening?

By Mervyn Dinnen, Blogger & Speaker on Social Media @MervynDinnen

Very little divides opinion like the use of social media in the workplace. From the evangelists who believe it is the only way to collaborate internally and externally, to the naysayers who believe that they pay people to do a job and not look at pictures on Facebook all day, it's not always easy to find a consensus over usage and benefits.

Which is why the CIPD survey and report Social Technology, Social Business, which will be unveiled at the Social Media in HR Conference today is so well timed, particularly with Peter Cheese's encouraging words at the start of the Annual Conference & Exhibition - 'The future's already here. It's just happening at different speeds in different companies' - still fresh in members' minds.

So are social technologies making a difference to the workplace?

They are certainly starting to lead changes in the way we work, but the tipping point is probably still some way in the distance. Certainly of those who use them around half find a great deal of benefit, but of those who don't use them for work (still nearly three quarters of the workforce) only 6% feel they will derive any benefit. It seems you have to use them see the rewards…or to put it more bluntly, be in it to win it! Those who feel the benefit from social are also more likely to understand their organisation's purpose and be motivated by it.

There is a strong opinion that it's not a waste of time though, with around half finding that it helps external collaboration, developing worthwhile connections with people they wouldn't have otherwise interacted with, and a strong belief that it does help get the right information to the right people, tempered slightly by fears of information overload.

One of the great hopes for social collaboration tools is to improve and democratise internal communication, so it's a bit disappointing to see that this is an area where there is still much to do. Sure, for organisations that have internal social media there are positives, such as managers seeking employee views more regularly, but when it comes down to how responsive managers are in acting upon employee input there seems no difference between those businesses who have internal social tools and those who don't. With tools they may ask more, but don't necessarily seem to listen more.

The clear value from these internal tools will be felt within organisations where management is more consultative in style, and no doubt also where employee relations and engagement are good. The tools give employees a greater voice, but it’s culture that still defines whether that voice has any greater resonance in influencing leaders to take notice. This could prove to be a wasted opportunity though, as those who feel their companies benefit from social media are more likely to have confidence in senior leadership, with two thirds willing to confide in them over problems.

It would seem that use of social media platforms is still seen by many as a personal thing, with businesses tending to harness its potential to customer service and customer and client facing initiatives. The opportunities for internal collaboration, or for an enhancement of our day to day working practices, are slow to be recognised, and where the tools are used within the job they tend to be for external collaboration. However those who do use the platforms find positive benefits and as more try them out, senior management can't fail to notice that a more open, collaborative environment helps the sharing of ideas and information, and also allows them to hear their employees' voices.

Instead of being seen as tools to bring instant results, it will be the acceptance of social technologies as platforms to foster greater sharing of knowledge, information and ideas, plus their ability to offer employee insights, that may eventually bring us closer to the tipping point.

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