Social Media in the Workplace and Neuroscience


As Matthew Lieberman points call at his book 'Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect', if Facebook was a faith , it might be the world's third largest after Christianity and Islam.

No workplace would get very far lately by attempting to ban specific religions and, likewise, organisations must introduce policies that cater for this 'grip' that social media has on our lives. After all, it's here and it's n't going away; ignoring it is not getting to work.

In order for organisations to approach social media policies with full understanding, we must check out a number of the neuroscience behind it to get exactly why social media has taken such a number one role in our lives.

The Universal Appeal of Social Media

Certain features of social media platforms make them instantly appealing: they're easy to use, require little or no expertise, they assist us hook up with our friends, they keep us up so far with latest news and gossip, they keep us visually engaged and entertained with photos and videos, they're free... and so on. You get the image - most of the people find it easy to love them.

Of course we've the private devices and broadband Wi-Fi connections available now too, in order that we will get on the social media networks all the time, if we wish.

And some people do wish - that is the worry for organisations that are counting up the value of lost productivity.

Director magazine commented in 2011 on a worldwide survey of IT workers which concluded that the spread of social tools 'designed to extend productivity is really costing businesses many dollars per annum in lost productivity.' It points out that '45% of employees work only quarter-hour or less without getting interrupted.'

So why are we so distracted by social media?

The Neuroscience

The workplace often glosses over the very fact that we are deeply tribal beings at our core, and this makes social interaction essential to our lifestyle .

Social media is therefore addressing a really basic need we have; without this it couldn't possibly have swept to such popularity within a couple of years. Yes, the devices and therefore the refore the technology and the smartness of the platforms have all enabled it, but what has driven it's our got to connect with one another .

Lieberman points call at his book how this social intelligence is different our 'general intelligence' as evidenced by the involvement of various parts of the brain:

'The brain regions reliably related to general intelligence and its related cognitive abilities, like memory and reasoning, tend to get on the outer (or lateral) surface of the brain, whereas brooding about people and oneself utilizes mostly medial (or midline) regions of the brain.'

We can argue about the relative merits of communication by texting or photos or smileys, as against face-to-face communication, but the truth is that, while we are arguing, social media is busy aged with it. it isn't stopping!

Dr. David Rock talks about the special power that social media has on the brain:

'When your reputation is attacked online you're getting an identical reaction within the brain as physical pain. When someone says something nice about you, the pleasure centre of the brain lights up... it is a pure drug during a sense because it's rewarding to the brain.'

Stressing the importance of social contact and social issues to the brain, Rock recognises that, like all drugs, it can cause addiction, as people become hooked in to 'empty neural calories' as he calls them - a kind of 'junk food' for the brain.

The dopamine burst (just sort of a sugar fix from a soda or a fat fix from a burger) we get from 'empty' time on social media makes people feel good, but it isn't doing much for the event of the individual, nor for the workplace.

Clearly, because the brain's level of social interaction increases it becomes less effective within the sort of non-social thinking that we must often engage in to try to to our job efficiently. Lieberman says this:

'To the extent that the social cognition network stays on once we engage in nonsocial thinking, it tends to interfere with our ability to perform.'

Organisations therefore got to implement policies that balance the 2 sides of the coin - recognising the necessity but defining what's excessive - so as to take care of productivity.

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