LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla., Dec. 11, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- A new study is the first to experimentally prove that social media activity can actually make you worse at your job. Specifically, the study finds that seeing social media posts of people having fun adversely affects the work that accountants perform as part of an audit.
"We were concerned about the effect of social media on how people think about themselves, and what that may mean for workplace performance," says Summer Williams, co-author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at Westfield State University.
"For example, on social media, we see other people sharing the best parts of their lives," says Stephen Kuselias, corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of accounting at Providence College. "That can skew our perceptions of the quality of our lives relative to the lives of other people. We wanted to know how that might interfere with the quality of work performance."
To that end, the researchers conducted an experiment with 56 auditors from four international accounting firms. All of the study participants were asked to assess the suitability of myriad materials to serve as evidence in an audit. The study participants were also divided into three groups, each of which interacted with different social media content.
Group A was shown images of people having fun in public locations. Group B was shown images of the same locations, but without people having fun. And Group C saw the same images that Group A saw but was also shown posts related to work.
The researchers found some social media interactions had a pronounced effect on study participants.
"Specifically, we found that seeing images of people engaging in social activities made study participants worse at collecting evidence relevant to an audit," Kuselias says.
However, the researchers also found that seeing work-related content in their social media feed mitigated the effect of seeing the social images.
"These findings are significant for businesses in general, not just for accounting," Williams says. "It demonstrates experimentally that social media use affects how people do their jobs."
What's more, the researchers say that the effect they saw on job performance would likely be magnified if workers were looking at their actual social media accounts.
The researchers concede that there is no realistic way for companies to control employee access to social media at work. However, they hope the study raises awareness of how social media can affect our ability to do our jobs.
"This work adds to what other studies have found about the adverse impact social media has on stress, emotions and other aspects of our lives that can affect us in the workplace," Williams says.
"We know from prior research that people's interaction with social media influences how they think and feel, as well as how they feel about those around them," says John Lauck, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of accounting at Louisiana Tech University. "Our study suggests that those perceptions can influence professionals' job performance with implications for the quality of their work."
The paper, "Social Media Content and Social Comparisons: An Experimental Examination of their Effect on Audit Quality," appears in Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory, which is published by the American Accounting Association.