Social Media in the Workplace

If you have recently been to a place full of Gen Y people such as in a lecture hall full of undergraduate students, you’ve seen it; no matter which direction you face, there are dozens of laptop screens showing not the lecture materials, but rather Facebook, Twitter, or other popular social media.

Understandably, the expansive trend of social media usage has caused an explosion of research on social media in educational or professional settings. Numerous studies have reported that in many cases, students without laptops in class tend to get higher grades than students who do use laptops in class, perhaps due to less temptation to scour social media websites (mind you, students without laptops may still have their smartphones). Nevertheless, faculty members these days have the perilous mission of decreasing unwanted Internet usage and increasing classroom productivity.

The same can be said for employers. According to the results of a Pew survey conducted in May, 2011, social media is among the most popular online activities, rivaling search and email.

Smart employers know that in order to run a successful business, they need to incorporate varying levels of social media into the business plan. As a result, it isn’t uncommon for employers to encourage employees to use social media in the workplace. The problem is, however, that many employees are finding room to use social media for their own personal entertainment rather than for work; the same thing that happens in schools.

To employers and business owners, this just means inefficiency.

In March, 2011, a Huffington Post article reported that a Chrysler employee was fired for accidentally using highly inappropriate words on the company’s main Twitter account. Reports popped up suggesting that the employee confused the company account with his or her own Twitter account.

This type of silly workplace blunder isn’t all that is worrying business owners. Many employers and recruiters actively use social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to check up on employees or potential employees to make sure individuals are responsible and not posting anything that can hurt the business, and to make sure they’re telling the truth. For example, a New Brunswick woman was recently fired from her job because the employer found Facebook photos of her ziplining while she was away from work on a disability claim.

According to a CNET News article, another employee from a marketing and logistics firm was fired after she updated her status saying her work was boring. Her experience of being bored at work is surely not uncommon but understandably, such an online proclamation can be bad for business. People have the right to say what they feel as an individual, but they also have their responsibilities as employees, so where should the line be drawn?

The examples and actual cases of social media consequences vary in scale, but it’s clear that employers and employees need to come up with a clear idea of what is and is not acceptable for social media usage at work and when at home, in the case that the employee wants to talk about work, very publicly. What is okay to be said? What will get a person fired?

As a leading Canadian lawyer and the author of Manage Your Online Reputation, Tony Wilson knows a thing or two about preventing problems online. He suggests that employers should come up with few ground rules about employee social media usage, or even general usage of workplace computers. Some suggested topics to cover in these rules:

  • Sending, receiving, or viewing inappropriate materials such as pornography or gambling sites and more at the workplace.
  • Comments posted on social networking sites can spread like wildfire, and are searchable by search engines. Emphasize caution when posting anything online.
  • Expectation of privacy at workplace computer; essentially, computers at workplace are owned by the company, so it is questionable as to whether employees should get full privacy coverage on their workplace computer. Professionals suggest that most employers should reserve the right to monitor and log all employees’ use of email, Internet and social media. If you do decide to monitor employee Internet usage, make a clear statement saying so.
  • Social networking discussions should not disclose confidential business information, unless specifically approved by the senior management (which is highly unlikely).

Being overly strict with the rules could decrease employee morale, but employers have the right to establish sensible rules to protect their companies. The rules should clearly state which kind of online behaviors are acceptable and which are not, and detail the consequences should an employee fail to act according to the standards. Establishing these rules early on will allow employees to know and act in ways that is expected of them, and be cautious of actions that can potentially hurt the business and their futures in the company.

About Setting workplace policies for social media use is just one aspect of protecting you and your business’s online profiles. For comprehensive information on proactively preventing problems on the Internet, see Manage Your Online Reputation by Tony Wilson, available in our Web store.

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