Developing a Fair Policy for Social Media in the Workplace
As of September, 17th 2017 there are 2.01 billion monthly active Facebook users, a 17 percent jump from last year. Of these billions, 1.32 billion are daily users. Management teams and human resource officers won’t be surprised to find out that the highest online social media traffic takes place mid-week, between 1 to 3 p.m. It’s probably not a coincidence this is right around the post-lunch lull in the workday. As sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn shape our lifestyles—social media in the workplace becomes an inevitable rift.
But employers have a right to be worried. A recent survey showed one-third of the U.S. workforce uses social media for at least an hour a day at work. The same survey reported that one-quarter of American workers will pass up a job with a zero-tolerance policy on social media in the workplace. Meaning, if workers aren’t allowed to check in on Facebook, they are more likely to find another company.
A common ground needs to established.
Unfortunately, many companies are taking a reactive stance toward social media. Some are banning social media use in the workplace altogether and using internet restriction software to regulate this policy. The adverse of this is that employees are now more apt to use their mobile device to scroll social media accounts. This approach also fails to be proactive. If an employee breaks policy and posts defamatory comments, the damage is already done. Not only is this bad publicity for a company, it deteriorates trust. Even government agencies, like the National Labor Relations Board, have not been able to determine a cohesive way to regulate social media in the workplace. This leaves it up to each employer to develop a fair policy.
Why is Social media so Important?
Besides how proliferated social media has become since 2004—the birth year of Facebook—marketing techniques have drastically changed to integrate the powerful influence of social media sites. 42 percent of marketers report that Facebook is critical to their business.
Of course, the reason social media usage is controversial in the workplace is that it’s believed to lead to decreased productivity, bring unwanted publicity, and a general increase in exposure for various work-related claims. There have been a number of court cases that can point one way or another when it comes to these claims.
In 2012, an employee was fairly dismissed over threats and comments he made to a colleague who reported him to their employer. The dismissed employee likened the company he worked for to “Dante’s Inferno.” This situation happens often. A disgruntled employee takes to social media without exercising discretion. Courts ruled this employee’s termination fair. But, employers don’t always win. A waiter was fired from a popular pizza franchise for Tweeting his feelings about his supervisor. After being terminated, the young man made a two-minute Youtube video that went viral. Afterward, he had 382,000 followers on Twitter and 9-years-later, the video has over 600,000 hits. The aftermath turned into some very bad publicity for the pizza franchise.
To avoid situations like these, it’s good to be proactive and implement a fair and reasonable social media in the workplace policy before issues arise.
What to Include in an Objective Social Media Policy
A mnemonic borrowed from Daniel Handman, RESPECT is a good model for social media in the workplace. The best way to implement this is to make sure that employees fully understand the policy. This should become part of your training and needs to be written down.
Employees are responsible for three things: the content they post, the audience their posts reaches, and effects of an inappropriate post.
Information posted on social media is not always protected by law. Employees that harass, intimidate, or threaten other employees impede an employer’s legal requirement to maintain a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. Ensure that when social media is used subversively that action will be taken.
Ideally, social media should be used as a tool to advance a business. This is not always the case and employees tend to use the platform to voice negative opinions. When this happens, the response needs to be at the corporate level. The logistics of this needs to be spelled out—the who, what, when of how to respond.
A good social media policy will prohibit employers from examining into the privacy of an employee’s social media presence. Matters like medical issues, leave, or identifying information about an employee like Social Security numbers and birthdates should all be protected.
There should be a clearly drawn line when it comes to social media in the workplace. Allowing some use during work hours is permissible, but employers need to clearly define expectations and performance of employees. How much browsing is unacceptable? If employees post about their employer, they must identify their affiliations with the company through hashtags. Using hashtags like #emp or #employee in a posting is a suggestion of how employees can identify themselves.
Information that needs to be kept confidential should be clearly off-limits. Items like business plans, pricing models, client-privileged documents, etc. should not be leaked through any social media. Any postings of documentation like this can be grounds for termination.
Involve your staff in a team meeting to have an open discussion on social media in the workplace. Not only should you have a discussion on how your company plans to regulate social media usage, but forms of social media marketing should be encouraged.
When it comes to social media policies, the bottom line should be less concerned with micromanaging and more about trust. Just as with other cases in the workplace, you should hire intelligent employees, train & pay them well, and hold them to high expectations. Inform your employees of the policy in ongoing professional development and trust them to monitor themselves. Instead of using disciplinary actions, stop the problem before it occurs. When you wait for employees to break policy, the damage has already been done. With a proactive approach—fair social media in the workplace policy—you avoid negative situations.
Corporate headquarters of Splash and Dash Groomerie & Boutique wishes you luck with writing a social media policy, and for more information on social media marketing, click here.
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