Social media can be good for your business. You can use it as a marketing tool. Or you can advertise your vacant roles. Maybe you use it to keep an eye on your competitors. Or it can just provide some light relief from a heavy workload.
We all use social media these days – and that includes your employees. And that is where it can all go wrong, of course. So do you have any control over how your employees use social media? And should you care?
Monitoring the use of social media
Some employers may want to try the “blanket ban” approach to social media in the workplace, but this is often counter-productive and almost impossible to enforce. Many people have access to computers at work and nearly all will carry a personal mobile phone. Some companies even provide a mobile phone for work purposes. Social media is available on all of these devices.
If you were to try this approach, you would find it very unpopular with your employees. A better option might be to allow “reasonable” use at work. If your employees have a sensible workload and are engaged and interested in their work, they will not abuse this trust. They might choose to have a quick look at Instagram whilst they grab a coffee. But they are not likely to spend hours scrolling through Facebook posts. If your staff are being managed properly, then you should find there is little problem with over-use at work.
There is potential for more of a problem if people are posting comments, rather than just reading posts. This could become a more serious cost to productivity. If people are getting involved in long “conversations” in social media, then they are not thinking about their work. They might only take a few minutes to post something but their train of thought is broken. It takes a while for that concentration to return. This can easily happen repeatedly if they are answering a string of comments on a social media post.
There may be a further problem if the content is inappropriate. This covers a variety of risks. It might be something which potentially damages your business reputation. Or it could be something for which the employer is blamed (vicarious liability). It could breach confidentiality. It could alienate your clients.
This, of course, leads to potential disciplinary action. That is inevitably another drain on productivity for the employee who posted the comment and others. It will affect all the people involved as witnesses or doing an investigation. Or those involved in the hearing. The productivity of the whole team will also take a knock. They may need to take on extra work whilst the disciplinary action is ongoing. Additionally, they may well be talking amongst themselves about it. And, depending on the severity of any sanction, they may have to adjust to a different person in the team, or a realignment of the work.
Other things which employers may want to guard against include:
- There is evidently a risk of introducing malware into your systems.
- Reputational cost. This depends on the content of the employee’s comments.
- Negative comments about colleagues – or even threats. I have been involved in the dismissal of an employee where they had made a physical threat to a colleague on social media.
- Loss of trust between employee and employer. This could even lead to a situation where the relationship is untenable.
This is not a complete list of the things which can be a problem in social media posts, from an employment perspective. You may be concerned about other issues as well. If that is the case, then I would urge you to take professional HR or legal advice.
How can employers avoid this productivity drain?
My approach would be to allow reasonable use of social media at work – or at least not to try and stop it.
I would urge any employer to safeguard themselves by producing a Social Media policy. If there are clear rules and they have been properly communicated, this can go a long way to achieving acceptable use. In particular, it is important to lay down what is NOT acceptable.
If people are allowed the freedom to make sensible choices, they will generally behave as adults. We all like to know our boundaries and work within them. If the guidelines are not restrictive, we do not generally breach them.
You may have exceptions to this in your workforce. With a clear policy in place, you have the means to deal fairly with any issues.