It’s becoming more and more common for employees to spend time on social media in the workplace, updating their Facebook status, tweeting, engaging with colleagues on LinkedIn, connecting with friends and business associates on Google+. While some of this can be constructive, some of it is truly personal. Where does a good employer draw the line?
It’s a question that comes up often in today’s dynamic workplace, where multiple generations and cultures work together and where communication means different things to different people.
All employers are concerned about whether or not they have their employees focused on the right kinds of things during the work day, says Charlie Judy, Global Director of Human Capital Strategic Development/Operations at Navigant Consulting and talent management blogger at HRFishbowl.
“Do we allow them the flexibility and the autonomy and responsibility to make their decisions about how they spend their time, and can social media, in fact, be a distraction from that? The quick answer is yes, of course it can be. But I believe very strongly that the way to manage that is not so much in how we grant or monitor access to those things, but more in how we manage our people and create the kind of environment in which they are trusted and respected and generally given the flexibility to do what they need to do,” he says. “There are other controls that we have in place. There are other ways to make sure that our people are getting their work done.”
Challenges of Monitoring
Aside from concerns about productivity, the use of social media in the workplace brings up other issues, such as information security, that can have even greater impact, especially in public companies or environments where sensitive information at stake.
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“We need to make sure that we’re not sharing protected or confidential information which may either compromise our credibility with investors or may damage, for whatever reason, our brand and reputation in the market,” says Judy. “That becomes a little bit more sensitive and, I think, more challenging, and again it goes back to establishing good, sound and widely understood policy and reminders.”
Fostering an atmosphere of professional conduct in the workplace is a start, but basic common sense should prevail. Employees should be encouraged to think broadly about the impact of their actions.
The good news is that the advantages of employees being fluent in social media can far outweigh the disadvantages.
“I see this as being, in many respects, a game changer for how we communicate, interact, build relationships, keep our people informed, how we provide feedback and how we build a community,” says Judy. “That may be the most important thing and the most overarching theme to this. It allows us to strengthen our community if we leverage it appropriately.”
Resistance is Futile
Social media is young, and so is the generation of workers most adept at using it. One of the major challenges in leveraging it is getting buy-in from more senior employees, many of them in management positions, who have had less exposure to the business advantages of social media.
There is a natural resistance from those who didn’t grow up with social media to allow employees to use it for the company’s benefit, says Judy, who adds that he is already seeing this attitude starting to change.
“Let’s stop worrying about how we manage the risk of social media in our workplace and start talking about how we leverage it,” he says.