There are clearly many advantages to using social media to conduct business and engage stakeholders. In some cases, social media skills are even now a pre-requisite in recruitment. The flip side to this is that it is more socially acceptable, if not expected, to stay in touch with friends from our desks, get the latest update on the Kardashians between meetings or even vent our frustration (on what may or may not be our 'private' Facebook page) after a clash with the boss! Undoubtedly, the potential for distraction and misconduct is increasing.
So, apart from having a social media policy that all staff are aware of and signed up to, what else should you be doing or not doing? Here's our quick and simple dos and don'ts guide to social media at work:
- DON'T unnecessarily limit your policy to a blanket restriction - If staff aren't allowed to access social media from their work systems then explain why. Unexplained blanket bans on anything can lead to a perception of a lack of trust. As with most policies, you are far more likely to get compliance if you are reasonable, realistic and accept that staff have break times and their own phones, tablets etc.
- DON'T assume that everyone using social media is skiving! Allowing access during clearly defined break times can actually result in staff focusing more during working hours as they satisfy their need for socialising in their lunch hour.
- DO set clear expectations on monitoring - ensure that staff know that anything accessed on their work computer is accessible to your IT support and ANY breaches of procedure will be investigated.
- DO resist the urge to go fishing - the recent tribunal case of Williams Vs Leeds United Football Club shows that although the legal system respects an organisations' right to deal with social media based conduct issues harshly, they warn against fishing around online with the express purpose of catching someone out. If you are dealing with a conduct or performance issue that legitimately leads you to investigate social media use (or anything that is beyond the original allegation or concern) ensure that you have a clear and reasonable route of progression that justifies your new evidence and discuss this with the employee as soon as is reasonable.
- DO extend your anti harassment and bullying policy - Use your policies to set expectations that staff should use common sense and reasonable judgment to determine what they post, where and to whom. By linking this policy to your social media policy (and vice versa) you can reinforce the expectations on staff of appropriate conduct. Whether a Facebook page is private or not will always be a bone of contention but staff should expect that if they reference the organisation, colleagues, work contacts or clients the 'it was private' mitigation is unlikely to justify or excuse derogatory comments.
I agree with recent legal analysis that it is encouraging when Tribunal courts support reasonable and justified efforts by employers to protect their reputation and the dignity of their staff. However, just as social media has significantly changed, and will continue to change the way we live, it is undoubtably also going to continue to significantly change the way that we manage.