Jocelyn only wanted to make a quick call to check in with her friends about going out for dinner after work. But, true to company policy, she needed to drop by her manager’s office and ask permission first. 

“Sorry, explain why again?” her boss asked.

Jocelyn felt embarrassed. “I haven’t seen them in a year. It’ll only be a quick call, I promise.”

Her boss sighed, stood up, and walked Jocelyn over to the Employee Phone Station, a small room that had only a desk and a phone. “Do you have to be in here with me?” Jocelyn asked? “Sorry,” her boss said. “Policy.”

Of course, this is fiction.

Or is it.

Maybe not. [tweetable]Far too many organizations block their employees from using Internet for personal use.[/tweetable] The outdated theory goes that employees are generally up to no good and, given an inch they’ll take a mile with such basic privileges.

This management practice even has a name: Theory X:

In this theory, which has been proven counter-effective in most modern practice, management assumes employees are inherently lazy and will avoid work if they can and that they inherently dislike work. As a result of this, management believes that workers need to be closely supervised and comprehensive systems of controls developed. A hierarchical structure is needed with narrow span of control at each and every level. According to this theory, employees will show little ambition without an enticing incentive program and will avoid responsibility whenever they can….

A Theory X manager believes that his or her employees do not really want to work, that they would rather avoid responsibility and that it is the manager’s job to structure the work and energize the employee.

(From Wikipedia)

It’s silly.

locked_cablesWhenever clients tell me they block sites like Facebook from their employees, I always nod my head in faux understanding and ask “And I trust you’ve blocked all external calls as well?”

I usually get a blank stare, a pause, and then “Uh, no. Why would we do that?”

Why indeed.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social web sites have formed part of our basic communications these days. [tweetable]Blocking your employees from them only sends one message: We don’t trust you.[/tweetable]

After all, Theory X would state, if we let them access Facebook, they’ll just spend all their time reading their News Feed and gabbing with their friends.

But, I ask, what’s stopping them from spending all day on the phone talking to their friends? Nothing. They don’t do it because their employees are responsible.

Besides, when you think about it, abuse of the Internet is far more trackable. Countless tools exist that can keep tabs on your employees’ use of the Internet — right down to each person, every web site, and every second of use.

This isn’t to say, of course, that some people will abuse access and spend an inappropriate amount of time online. For those people, you warn them to not to it again, and if they keep doing it, you fire them. Just as if they spent six hours each day on the phone talking to their friends.

As Ronald Reagan once coined during the Cold War: Trust, But Verify.

It’s not rocket science.

Sadly, it’s not just Internet use that employers are unnecessarily untrustworthy. If they’re sick, we make them bring in evidence of a visit to the doctor. If they need to attend a funeral, we make them bring in a funeral notice.

[tweetable]A human organization trusts its people.[/tweetable] It creates a culture where people believe in the mission of the organization, so much so that they simply don’t want to abuse time.

Creating permission for personal calls, for occasionally checking their Facebook messages over lunch, or for taking a half-day off work just because they need a break will, paradoxically, foster far more trust in you. It’ll be better for the bottom-line. And your people will be happier.