“Link,” “Like,” “Follow,” or Get Out of the Way!

September 20th, 2015

Been on Facebook lately? Those who revel in such statistics pronounce that 20% of the world population has been on Facebook in the last 30 days.1 — a percentage that takes a giant leap among the population of employed people in the United States. Newsflash: No matter what your policy, beliefs or firewalls say, social media is impacting your workplace. Are you guiding the flow or getting carried by the current?

Your social media policy, (you have one, right?) likely says something about confidentiality, not accessing social media during working hours, and not posting derogatory or embarrassing comments about you as an employer. Okay, but…. Do working hours include breaks or lunch hours? What about the employee who says she has a right to free speech? If my sales person is connected through Facebook or Linked In with our customers and quits, how do those connections impact the non-compete agreement? Even if I can answer all of these questions, how — with increasingly effective smartphone apps, telecommuting and 24-hours access – do I, as an employer, enforce these laws?

My answer may surprise you – as an HR professional, I recommend you embrace social media and enter into an open and evolving dialogue with your employees that focuses on the following issues.

Defining boundaries specific to your organization and even to positions within the organization. There is no “one-size-fits-all” policy for social media in the workplace. Do you have client privacy issues? Are you an executive with the firm or an entry-level employee? Is there already a fraternization policy in place or are there other ethical restrictions (e.g. teachers may not contact, students, families of students or former students whom they have taught in the last 5 years). Consider focus groups to involve employees in identifying concerns unique to your company and to solicit ideas on how to monitor and enforce policies.

Encouraging positive uses of social media. Can you create a closed Facebook group for your employees to post suggestions, comments or best practices on particular issues? Can employees link to or follow corporate social media pages for your company? Do you have a corporate blog to which staff can submit approved posts?

Being specific in your policies surrounding use. Is it okay to check social media during working time? If so, how often or for how long? If not, how is “working time” defined and does it include breaks? Are there “personal technology free” zones (e.g. meetings, client visits, etc.) where cell phones, laptops and tablets must be put away? Have you included social media posts in your harassment and discrimination policy?

Revising often. The first decision regarding social media and termination was released less than 3 years ago by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in September of 2012, and, due to a US Supreme Court ruling in 2014, many of the decisions made by the NLRB during that time frame may be under review.2,3 The short answer is: There is no short answer. Be prepared to be flexible and act quickly as social media outlets change and laws are interpreted over the next several years.

Getting professional help. If no one on your staff is a social media subject matter expert, find one. Create a small team to attend trainings or speak with a knowledgeable attorney or other specialist. Talk about what you are trying to accomplish with your policy and procedures – whether it is productivity, confidentiality, legal protection or something else.

The bottom line: Be honest about your concerns, be open to ideas and get your staff involved in solutions. Managing social media, by definition, cannot be a one-person show. Oh, and feel free to ‘friend’ me on Facebook!