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A major frustration with social media is also one of its best attributes: it follows you everywhere. And, that means EVERYWHERE. Technology has made us better connected than ever before, and offers us the opportunity to look up anything we can imagine on a whim, as well as connect with anyone anywhere, but also haunts us when we don’t want it to. It interrupts us at dinner, or when we are at the doctor, or at work. The technology behind social media is developed to have no limits and it forces itself upon each of us.

A new survey from People-OnTheGo reports that social media has invaded the workplace in a major way. People-OnTheGo is a 10-year-old Silicon Valley company formed to study productivity in the digital age. The survey of 1,000 American workers finds that employees are now spending up to four hours a day managing multiple inboxes that include corporate and personal e-mails. They admitted spending one hour a day at work handling social media, including such thing as Linked In, Facebook and Twitter.

Generation Y workers &mdash or those born after 1980 &mdash spend 1.8 hours a day on social media. People-OnTheGo reports that only 6.8 percent of that time spent on social media had anything to do with work. Pierre Khawand, founder and chief executive of People – OnTheGo, believes this signals a new era for our society. “What is perhaps the most concerning issue raised by this study is that most participants check their ‘inboxes’ too often, constantly interrupting their work,” he writes. “Researchers have consistently found that multitasking reduces productivity; tasks can take more than twice as long to complete and can lead to a dramatic increase in errors.”

There is scarcely a person alive who hasn’t responded to a personal e-mail at work, watched a YouTube video that has nothing to do with the job, or spent some amount of on-the-job time making a personal telephone call. This latest survey, however, shows that danger to employers and that this outright thievery of time at work is a bigger issue than many people would have thought.

Khawand suggests that social media’s addictive nature is responsible for some of this abuse. His study found that 23.2 percent of workers admit to constantly checking new information as soon as it arrives and 42.6 percent say they check that information more often than they’d like. Only 34.2 percent of workers thought they were responsible in the way they responded to social media while at work. Somewhere, someone is going to make a lot of money writing books or selling products that tell us we need to behave more prudently at our jobs when it comes to dealing with social media.

So what do we do? Should businesses ban the use of social media in the workplace? The reality is that social media probably has significant benefits for helping businesses perform better, but we’ve yet to quantify exactly how. It’s a new tool for business and tantalizes us with its possibilities. Many businesses now employ social media to cultivate relationships with their customers, collaborate with others or do market research. Those are all important business needs.

No corporate governor is going to successfully monitor how people interact with social media at work. The best solution is for each individual to determine boundaries and acknowledge that work is different than their personal lives. Self-policing will be the best and least offensive way of dealing with this growing intrusion. The only question is how workers themselves will meet this challenge.

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