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Employers cracking down on Facebook at work are "cutting off the air supply" to the digital generation, says an Auckland academic.

While many bosses are locking out their workers from social networking sites, the University of Auckland's Michael Myers believed this is not the best way to deal with "digital natives".

"There's this wave of what we call digital natives coming into the workforce, this whole group of young people who come into organisations have used digital technologies right from when they were babies almost ... and simply banning communication tools like Facebook in the workplace is just not the answer to managing them," he said.

As the head of the university's department of information systems and operations management, Myers is spearheading an international study looking at the best way employers can work with this new demographic.

"This [group] is a new phenomena, we've never had this before," he said.

"We urgently need to make sure we understand how they think."

As well as "digital natives", the study will also examine "digital immigrants" - those in their mid-20s to 40s who have learned to use digital technology during their adult life - and "digital dinosaurs", those over 40 who struggle to understand the point of social networking.

The Auckland academic said the research will help inform how to best design and implement new technology in the workplace and what impact its introduction will have.

Myers rejected notions that Facebook, Twitter and other social networks were simply a waste of time and said they were a new way of communicating and doing business.

"When the telephone came out, I'm sure companies thought people would waste a lot of time talking on the telephone to their friends - now everyone has a telephone in their office. I think it's the same with the internet and Facebook. Right now of course there's the danger that employees will waste time on social networking sites, but in fact, a lot of companies are using Facebook and Twitter for business," he said.

As social networks can blur the line between work and pleasure, Myers said the challenge was directing and managing how employees engage with them.

The study will involve academics from Auckland, Canada and the United States and the findings are due out next year.