Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp… all part of a day’s work? They are for many employees. Estimates show that Facebook alone has 1.44 billion monthly active users and that over 50% of users log on every day. Many employers don’t have clear guidelines on social media use. The millennium generation who will soon be entering into the workforce have been swiping smartphones since before they could talk. Many will admit to being addicted to checking Facebook multiple times a day.
There are of course many positives to using social media in the workplace. It can be a cost effective, fast and versatile marketing tool which can spread your message to a very wide audience. Social media presence is also increasingly critical to business success in many industries.
However, social media can also result in the blurring of work life and private life and this can create a plethora of problems, summarised below.
Loss of productivity. An obvious though often overlooked problem is excessive use of non-work related social media. The extent of use is often difficult to gauge given the increasing use of private portable devices by employees.
Damage to business reputation. The potential for reputational damage from social media is vast. Many employees view online chat as the same as chatting with friends in a bar and don’t seem to realise their comments can be seen and distributed to an audience of millions with catastrophic consequences.
Discrimination. Employers can be held responsible for discriminatory comments made by staff on social networks. This can extend to comments made out of hours and on private devices. Employment Tribunals can award uncapped damages to successful claimants.
Loss of confidential information. Social media also exposes employers to the potential dangers of employees posting highly sensitive business information online. LinkedIn creates many problematic issues in this area.
So, how does an employer mange these risks and control its employees use of social media?
Develop clear guidelines. Employers need to firstly decide their stance on social media. An outright ban is likely to prove unpopular and difficult to enforce if use has previously been permitted. Most employers allow occasional private use but the key is having guidelines which set out clearly what this means. You also need to ensure that the policy is communicated to staff regularly.
Monitor use. You need to monitor social media use in order to ensure your business guidelines are adhered to and standards kept. You must ensure you inform staff that you will monitor their use of social media and you must act in accordance with Data Protection Act guidelines.
Take disciplinary action. Ultimately you may need to discipline and sometimes dismiss staff for breaching your social media guidelines. Care must be taken in following the correct process in advance of taking any action.
Post termination restrictions. Social media can often result in your staff being easily targeted by your competitors. A useful deterrent is to ensure that employees have signed well drafted and enforceable restrictive covenants.
Employers must decide their stance on social media and have clear contractual terms and policies to prevent misuse.