Should You Let Your Employees Play Facebook Games at Work?

Michael Essany Headshot by Michael Essany on April 1, 2011

In the American workplace, Facebook is the proverbial double-edged sword. In one sense, Facebook has emerged as one of the most efficient, effective, and affordable marketing and customer relations tools ever devised for businesses large and small. On the other hand, Facebook also represents a potentially gargantuan waste of time and productivity, not to mention an inviting gateway to costly and otherwise damaging security threats.

Danger Lurks in FarmVille

According to Cisco’s 2010 Midyear Security Report, a swelling number of Facebook users actively play games at work — FarmVille, Mafia Wars, etc. As a result of this popularity, cybercriminals are inventing clever methods to spread malware through these ubiquitous games.

In June 2010, a few crooks created a “clickjacking scam” aimed at FarmVille players. The cyber attack successfully corrupted Facebook users’ “like” button, Business & Enterprise IT Security News reported, “so when individuals clicked on them, malicious links appeared on their pages.”

Despite efforts by many large companies to restrict online gameplay, 50 percent of avid gamers admit to “ignoring company rules” that discourage or restrict the use of social networking. Another 27 percent say they’ve changed corporate device settings in order to access blocked applications for the sole purpose of playing games online. Security experts contend that the longer one plays, the greater the danger of a cyber-attack becomes — a sobering reality given that 7 percent of Facebook users average 60 minutes or more playing FarmVille daily.

“An alarmingly massive chunk of America’s desk-tethered employees now access some form of social media on the job,” says business analyst Mike Randazzo, citing a report from IT research firm Nucleus Research. The study to which Randazzo alludes shows that 77 percent of workers who have a Facebook account access it while on the clock. “Using Facebook to check up on friends and colleagues isn’t the problem,” admits Randazzo. “In fact, having intermittent mental ‘breaks’ from one’s job may actually be beneficial to workplace productivity. Games, however, are a different story altogether.”

The Risks Far Outweigh The Benefits

According to Randazzo and others who have studied the effects of online gaming in the workplace, there are remarkably few discernible benefits to be gained by allowing employees to play Facebook games on the job. “In addition to the vast quantity of time wasted,” Randazzo says, noting that Facebook gaming absorbs substantially more time than simple social networking, “the emerging security threats posed by malware in many of today’s hottest social media games could prove far costlier than just reduced productivity to a company.”

“If you’re looking to be a cool boss who lets his or her employees have ‘fun on the job,’ do so by permitting games to be played only on one’s mobile device during defined break times,” Randazzo advises. “Overall, there are very few sound reasons to permit social networking-related games while on the job.”