It seems we're always going back and forth on the subject of Facebook's usefulness at work. Some would argue that Facebook is no longer just a time-wasting application for poking people and throwing sheep - it's a critical part of their daily communications with co-workers, colleagues, and others within their industry. In fact, earlier this month, we reported on a study that showed the growing acceptance of social networking applications in the workplace. The study noted that nearly half of I.T. professionals now saw Facebook as one of the apps that had business value.

Yet today, there's new information being released that seems to say something different about the state of social networking applications in the workplace. According to Nucleus Research, Facebook causes a 1.5% decrease in employee productivity.

Facebook at Work = Lost Productivity?

According to the Nucleus Research survey, employers are losing 1.5 workers per 100 in employee productivity to the supposed time-wasting activity known as "Facebooking." To reach that number, the company surveyed a random sampling of 237 office workers.

The findings revealed that nearly two-thirds of those who visit Facebook do so during business hours and they stay on the site for an average of minutes per day when they do.

Despite what you've heard touted about the necessity of Facebook in today's business world, those responding to this survey overwhelmingly admitted they didn't see any business reason for using the site. In total, 87% of respondents basically said their time on Facebook at work had no business-related purpose.

Of course, given the small sample size of this survey, it's hard to form any definitive conclusions...although that hasn't stopped Nucleus Research from doing so. They're suggesting that companies "evaluate their Facebook policies and the cost to the organization...as today blocking Facebook may actually result in a 1.5 percent gain in productivity."

A Second Opinion

We think that Nucleus Research isn't seeing the bigger picture here, so we'd like to counter their research with some findings from the University of Melbourne. U of M professor Dr. Brent Coker also surveyed a small sample of office workers (300 to be exact) and came to a rather different conclusion.

He found that people who took small breaks between tasks were 9% more productive than their colleagues who did not. "It gives them a chance to reset their concentration," says Coker. That means that companies who block access to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are actually inadvertently decreasing employee productivity.

Besides, we hate to break the news to Nucleus Research, but employees have always found ways to take these sorts of small mental breaks at work. Before social networks - heck, before computers, even - workers would typically gather around the water cooler for some mindless banter. Others take cigarette breaks, head to the vending machines, or stop by a co-worker's office for chit-chat as they make their way through the office. Employees don't need Facebook to goof off, you see.

But out of all the ways to take a break at work, Facebook really seems to be the least offensive - especially if the employee has built up a work-related network of friends and colleagues on the site. Who knows? They might even find themselves chatting about work while on Facebook!

At the end of the day, though, this isn't a simple black or white issue. Sometimes using Facebook may be productive for employees, sometimes it's not. Either way, the knee-jerk reaction from organizations shouldn't be to simply block access to the social network. Perhaps businesses should just focus on rewarding the employees who perform their jobs well and disciplining those who don't do their work? That seems like a more reasonable way to stimulate employee productivity, don't you agree?