Social media in the workplace
Social networking sites, and social media generally, offer employees the opportunity to network, share interests and belong to online communities. The growth of social media has been phenomenal and has contributed to a significant change in how people communicate with one another.
Businesses in Australia have generally seen the benefit of embracing social media as a way of advertising products, increasing engagement with clients as well as a tool in recruiting staff. When entering into a discussion of social media there are a number of sites that dominate the market. These include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked In and YouTube but can also extend to blogs, forums and other websites that allow individual users to identify themselves and publish information.
Managing staff who are using social media
It is becoming more and more common for staff to display their displeasure with their manager, colleagues or employer generally, on social networking sites. Where previously employees may have discussed their employment issues over a coffee or drinks with friends, the domain for expressing their feelings in relation to work is moving online.
It is very difficult to totally remove or delete comments that are posted online and when these comments are posted on a website, that is accessible by countless other people, it may no longer be a private matter but a public comment.
While it has been well established that behaviour by an employee outside of their employment may have an effect on their employment, the rise in use of social networking sites has left human resource professionals in unchartered territory.
Whether you allow staff to access social networking sites at work or not, in order to appropriately manage employees’ use of these sites it is important employers do the following things:
- create a social networking/media policy
- include social networking/media in existing policies
- be clear about the consequences of breaching policy
- manage employees’ use of social networking sites.
These points are discussed further below:
Create a social networking/media policy
Employers face the risk of an unfair dismissal claim from employees who are terminated for inappropriate use of social networking sites if their employees are not given guidelines as to appropriate behaviour and advised of the consequences of breaching these guidelines.
Organisations that have published their social networking/media policies share the following common themes:
- Users are responsible for what information they place on social networking sites.
- Users need to be clear about who they are representing in their posts i.e. whether they are expressing their own views or officially representing the employer.
- Users need to respect their audience.
- Users need to respect copyright and intellectual property.
- Users may face disciplinary action for breach of policy.
- The policy does not apply to employees’ personal use of social media where there is no reference or connection to the employer.
Include social networking/media in existing policies
The relatively quick and meteoric rise in the use of social networking sites has meant that existing workplace policies often do not make any mention of this new way of communicating. If this is likely to impact your business, it is important to update the following policies to include mention of social networking:
- bullying and harassment policy;
- internet and email use policy; and
- intellectual property and copyright policy.
Be clear about the consequences of breaching policy
In order for employers to adequately enforce a workplace policy it is important that employees are aware of the parameters set by the policy and the consequences of breaching a policy. This may be as simple as referring to the company’s disciplinary policy or listing the consequences; such as: counseling, disciplinary action or termination.
Manage employee’s use of social networking/media sites
An employer’s decision to block the use of social networking sites at the firewall is not enough to successfully manage employees who are using social media. Blocking social media sites may not stop the issues associated with employees posting comments online. Instead, businesses may simply block the benefits of using social media.
Research has shown one in four 16 to 24 year olds stated that access to social networking at work would influence their decision to join one employer over another. This suggests that in order to attract and retain young people, it is important that employers consider whether they allow their employees to access social media sites. Employees who are allowed to access social media at work often report a benefit to their employer in that they:
- felt more trusted by their employer
- were able to take a break and feel refreshed
- allowed them to better network with colleagues, suppliers and clients.
Employers who have allowed their employees to use social networking sites in the workplace have implemented a number of strategies and parameters to ensure a successful implementation and management. These may include:
- only allowing employees to use social media sites in allocated breaks unless working on social media as an official representative of the company
- allowing staff to use social networking sites in allocated areas such as break rooms
- reviewing employees’ use of social media and the internet generally to look for excessive use.
CCIWA can provide further advice on managing employees’ use of social media as well as assist in reviewing or drafting a social media policy. CCIWA’s Employment Forms Guide contains a template social media policy and associated policies. Please contact CCIWA’s Employee Relations Advice Centre on (08) 9365 7660 or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.