While some companies search for ways to limit employees' access to social media, a recent study by Baylor University suggests businesses may want to embrace the relatively new cultural phenomenon as a way to improve employee morale and reduce turnover.
The study followed efforts by United States Automobile Association, a San Antonio-based insurance provider with nearly 22,000 employees, to acclimate new hires into their organization through participation in an internal social networking site, according to a statement from the Waco, Texas, university.
Hope Koch, associate professor of information systems at Baylor and co-author of the study, said the social networking site developed by the auto association was modeled on Facebook. Employees were encouraged to use the company site just as they would the popular social networking site as a way to "facilitate a network of acquaintances and help build emotionally close friendships," according to the statement.
Koch and her colleagues found that participating on the site led employees to feel a "greater sense of well-being and organizational commitment and better employee engagement."
The association's new hires, who mostly were millennials, received the new site positively. "For millennials, mixing their work life and their social life via an online social networking created positive emotions for the employees who use the system. These emotions led to more social networking and ultimately helped the employees build personal resources like social capital and organizational learning," Koch said in the statement.
The study found such sites can be particularly beneficial to a company hoping to reduce its information technology employee turnover rate, which is typically higher than most other turnover rates, Koch says.
Koch believes the historically high turnover rate in the technology industry is in part attributed to the American education system's failure to produce enough tech workers to fill all the jobs available. Once those employees gain a certain level of experience, they become highly sought after by other companies she says. A recent Dice Holdings Inc. salary survey of tech professionals corroborates her claim, reporting 64 percent of respondents felt confident they could easily find another favorable position within a year.
The effectiveness of the auto association's internal social networking site came from its gradual evolution to both a place of social interaction and use as a mentoring tool, Koch says.
The site gave new hires "access to people who could provide useful information and new perspectives and allowed them to meet more senior new hires and executives. These relationships set the new hires at ease during work meetings, helped them understand where to go for help and increased their commitment to the financial institution's mission," she said.
Through the organization's site, new hires were able to seek advice and receive performance feedback from more senior new hires. They also were able to organize company events that were then sponsored by senior executives. Koch said as a result many new employees established connections with upper-level executives.
Despite the association's success with developing an internal social networking site, Koch does not believe it would benefit all companies. Companies should consider how willing it is to integrate its employees' professional and private lives before implementing its own social media site. Koch added an organization that "doesn't stigmatize social media as a waste of time" and has a young workforce would benefit most from developing a site.
Max Mihelich is Workforce's editorial intern. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.