This article originally appeared in the December 2013 edition of the HRPA London and District Digest. (See page 10 of this pdf copy.)
Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest – to name a few – permeate our lives. As we spend a majority of our day at the workplace, most of us can’t help but use social media sites while at work.
The rise in social media’s prevalence brings opportunities and challenges for employers and employees alike. Despite the doom and gloom we often hear, social media should not be shunned or feared. A happy medium can be reached.
There are two fundamental issues for social media in the workplace. The first is how to use it to effectively promote business. The second is how to discourage employees from spending excessive amounts of time on their own social media, and from saying things that don’t sit well with employers.
We are still feeling our way around what control and recourse an employer actually has over employee social media use, especially when it is on the employee’s account, and on the employee’s time. Internet tools and social media increasingly blur how one’s personal and work life overlap.
Employers struggle with the extent to which they may be prejudiced by what employees say on social media.
Should employers just ignore things they don’t like? What legal rights do employers have over actions employees consider personal? Employers should be careful not to push back too hard, because situations can play out badly for the employer in the court of public opinion.
An outright ban of social media use in the workplace is not the answer. Depending on the nature of the business, it may be beneficial to allow employees to use it. And an employer’s attempts to ban it or control access from company systems will make employees simply pull out their phones.
The better approach is to put guide-lines in place and educate employees on acceptable behaviour. This is not to say that employee use of social media carries no risk. It is not unusual for people to say things on social media that they would never do in a letter or email.
For example, a 2009 survey of United States employees indicated that 74 per cent agreed that it would be easy to damage an employer’s reputation via social media. Despite this, 27 per cent of those employees said they do not consider the ethical consequences of posting comments, photos or videos; 37 per cent rarely or never consider what their boss would think; and 34 per cent rarely or never consider what their customers would think. 15 per cent agreed that if their employer did something they did not agree with they would comment about it online.
RISKS TO EMPLOYERS INCLUDE
- violation of workplace harassment laws and policies,
- messages inconsistent with the employer’s corporate image,
- inappropriate use of employer resources,
- copyright violations,
- privacy breaches, and
- security breaches.
While one can argue that existing rules and common sense should be sufficient to cover an employee’s use of blogs and social media, it doesn’t seem to work that way in practice. After all, people sometimes tend to use new tools without a lot of thought about what they are doing, or whether they are doing something that they shouldn’t do.
Many employers have implemented social media policies for their employees. In essence, a social media policy describes acceptable behaviour. It will remind employees what is appropriate, and what is not. The goal is to foster safer behaviour, and to set a standard against which behaviour can be judged
A social media policy can stand on its own, or be incorporated into a wider, technology-use policy that covers the appropriate use of technology in general.
If you are not sure where to start, or what issues should be addressed, visit www.policytool.net. This online service (created by the author and rTraction) allows you to answer questions based on your situation and generates a draft policy customized to your business.