What once started as a novel way to keep in touch with friends all over the world has fast become a daily addiction for people everywhere, and for some, even a replacement for verbal communication with people in the same building – heck, even in the same room!
Whether you love it or hate it, resist it or embrace it, the phenomena of social media is everywhere. Whether you consider it a blessing and a curse, whether you love or loath social networking sites, employers are finding it increasingly difficult to ignore social media in the workplace. Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instragram, can all be used for progressive communicating, networking and organisational promotion within companies. But this double edged sword is a sharp one, and one that can often cause confusion when it comes to managing ‘personal’ or ‘private’ social media content, especially in formal disciplinary situations.
These are but a few of the common concerns shared by employers who find themselves unsure of the boundaries between the personal and the professional. So what should company’s do to help clarify these situations?
Unfortunately, the answer is not always black and white. There’s no magic formula for handling the medley of social media issues that can impact on the workplace, but there are a few key things to remember that can help:
Have a Social Media Policy.
There is no legal requirement to have a Social Media Policy. However setting clear rules and boundaries for what is and isn’t expected within a workplace can make it a whole lot easier to manage a situation, should you need to.
If a formal policy is not in place, it’s advisable to have at the very least some guidelines for staffs to ensure boundaries are clear and consistent. These guidelines should include what is and what is not acceptable behaviour when using the internet, emails, smart phones, and networking websites and what can be said about the company.
Monitor internet and social media communication on work’s devices.
It should be clear to all staff when social media and computer activity use will be monitored on work equipment and what the consequences are of inappropriate use, e.g. disciplinary action. You might view allowing staff to use company equipment to log on to social media sites at their workstation at lunchtime, a nice thing as an employer to do, but it should be clear that the company could access these as part of routine monitoring. If deemed inappropriate, regardless of whether within working hours or a designated lunchbreak, should an staff be suspected of using social media inappropriately, expressing offensive language or any other misuse of such internet privileges, make it known this could result in serious formal action.
Leave no room for professional ambiguity.
If staff are representing the company online as part of their job role, set appropriate rules for what information they may disclose and the range of opinions they may express. It should also give clear guidelines for staff on what they can and cannot say about the organisation, both on company profiles and on personal web pages and apps – especially if open to members of the public.
On personal profiles, if the company’s requires staff not to mention their place of work or have certain standards of confidentiality as part of their work-day, this should be made clear in policies, processes and where appropriate – obtain signed confirmation of everyone’s agreement at the start of the employment relationship.
When setting standards and expectations for social media use, ensure this links with other related policies or guidelines, for example, Cyberbullying, Computer Usage. Bring to staffs attention relevant legislation on copyright and public interest disclosure.
When to consider it private?
Staff may claim their personal social media profiles are private, and by employers accessing information published here, that it is an invasion of privacy. This is simply not true.
If a staff profile is available within the public domain or is readily accessible – either as a member of the public browsing, or as a colleague they have willingly befriended and invited into their private circle, then information pertaining to an organisations reputation or the conduct of staff, can be used as part of a formal process such as disciplinary action. Whilst Employers must be mindful not to discriminate based on information seen on social media profiles, there are a range of legitimate situations in which an individuals’ conduct, comments or activity may be considered inappropriate within a workplace situation.
Staff should be encouraged to regularly check privacy settings on social networking sites and reminded of appropriate professional boundaries. If your company has rules around befriending colleagues, managers, service users etc., this should be made clear to staff upon joining your organisation. Good practice is to obtain a signed understanding and agreement of the rules and consequences from all staff.
That said it’s important to remember… social media isn’t all bad!
Many companies, managers and staffs use social media for a host of positive networking opportunities, promoting events, sharing and celebrating organisational news, recruiting and inclusive communication between large teams and remote workers. When used appropriately social media can be a great tool within the workplace and to further develop your business.
At Sapience HR we have been advising our clients on the pros and cons around social media for a long time and would be happy to discuss your situation with you at any time.
Just give us a call on 01736 339384 or drop us an email at HelloThere@sapiencehr.co.uk.