Posted on / Updated on / in Blog & HR Policies /

Remember when you were in school and got caught with gum? Didn’t you always try to pass it off to the teacher that you just had a cough drop in your mouth? Well, social media is the new Juicy Fruit, and employees everywhere are making excuses left and right as to why they are updating their statuses on company time. “I was networking,” being the most common, of course.

For most employers who have already taken steps towards social media policy development, the use of company equipment and time has been their main concern. They don’t want employees wasting employer resources communicating with friends via the web when they should be working.

While most certainly understandable and very important, this really isn’t the biggest concern anymore. Not only do employers have to be concerned about time spent on social media sites such as facebook, twitter, youtube and linkedin, but they have to be concerned about the content of that time, both on and off the clock.

Why, you ask? Aren’t those private, you say? Well, they are sort of private, except for the fact that they are being posted online for a whole lot of people to see in a written format that can be copied and forwarded throughout cyberspace for… infinity. Many employees do not recognize the impact their workplace related comments can have when they return to the workplace.  And this is exactly why social media policy development must go beyond simply preventing employees from wasting time.

It’s Not Just About Reduced Productivity Anymore

In order to reduce potential liability and limit the disciplinary issues (and drama!) in the workplace, it’s important that employers embark on a new exploration towards social media policy development. Managers and employees alike need to understand that, when it comes to the workplace, social networking rants, raves, and professions of love (among other things) can lead to:

• Damage to the reputation of the company or brand name image
• Distribution of confidential information or proprietary property
• Harassment or discrimination claims

Can you imagine how the following scenarios would play out?

• An employee who was passed up for a promotion makes disparaging remarks about the person who received it, who happens to be a minority; friends join in for support; derogatory comments, jokes, and epitaphs ensue
• A manager who knows of an impending layoff that has not been announced discusses his worries and concerns
• An angry employee complains about reduced benefits and complains that all the money is going to the executives for a well respected community not-for-profit organization
• An employee excitedly tells her friends about her great raise and bonus
• The marketing manager of a popular soft drink manufacturer is tagged in a photograph enjoying the competitor’s product.

Also, employers need to remember that they can be found liable for failing to stop harassing behavior within social media among employees if they knew or “should have known” it was taking place.

Convinced that you need to further explore your social media policy development yet? In addition to setting forth the rules about not accessing the sites during company work time, the policy should set the expectation that all company rules apply and extend to online behavior, including the harassment policy. The policy should also make it explicitly clear that there should be no expectation of privacy when it comes to what is posted on a public social networking site.

Then once the policy is in prepared, employers should:

1. Integrate the social media policy with policies addressing all areas of technology, including internet activity, blogging, text messaging, etc.;
2. educate employees and managers on the policies and the potential consequences for violation; and
3. then actually enforce the policy.

Number 3 is definitely the hardest part, and no one is suggesting that you “friend” all of your employees to keep track of what they are doing. However, employers do need to act when they are made aware of activity that violates policy.

Speaking of “friending” employees: Do you or don’t you? I have an opinion on that matter, too (look for that in the next post), but I’d love to hear what you have to say first. Do you think it’s a good idea for colleagues, bosses, managers, and employees to “all be friends” in social media?

Budgets are tight. What are you doing to help your bottom line?
Top 5 Reasons HR Outsourcing Improves Your Bottom Line

Our team talked to business leaders who have taken the step to outsource HR and provided real world insights and learnings in this free resource. Learn more about how HR Outsourcing can impact your bottom line, and see if it is a good fit for your business.

New call-to-action

about the author: Amy Letke

Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success.