If we were to define the current working generation with one word it would be ‘flexibility’. For this reason, we have seen the lines between work and play continue to blur, with time being spilt so differently between work and social life, how do we manage social interaction and the ability to focus during those hours spent in the office?
As an employer, it can be difficult to influence personal communications, or social media use during office hours without appearing to take a ‘big brother’ approach. In this article we explore the potential pitfalls of your teams using social media in hours, but also the potential benefits and how to set the right expectations from the outset.
Blurring the lines between personal and professional
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are perhaps more clearly designed for more personal use and thus could be argued of no interest to the employer. To this effect, it would appear that an employee has full control of their profiles and zero obligation to an employer on who, what and where they post their content. Dependant on privacy settings, posts on employee’s profiles could be seen by a few or many, so the question is, what connection does this have with your organisation?
There are three primary ways in which an employee can be connected to your brand on their personal social media; job/employment status, posts containing work place content and mentions of a brand name or hashtag. In 2017, Rachel Burns (Care Home Manager) was fired for posting a picture while at work at a residential care home to her Facebook containing the faces of residents (bbc.co.uk). Regardless of a post’s intention, positive or negative, if it's connected to your brand through any of the above means, is it truly echoing your brand values?
LinkedIn, unlike other platforms, is an accepted professional social networking website and could be deemed to have a more direct connection to your organisation. Therefore, may be more appropriate to be used within the workplace. However, when employees share posts that could be considered inappropriate to the image of your brand on their own LinkedIn pages or in a group which could be visible to your customers - it is surely right for employers to have a say?
Use of social media at work
Extensive research has been conducted on the various factors contributing to both the positive and negative effects of social media usage at work. Many sources have argued that using such platforms can boost employee productivity by providing a ‘micro break’ from the rigour of their day to day tasks.
The alternative argument suggests that it could be an unwanted distraction, taking away from an individual’s focus and drive to complete tasks. This is supported by the 2017 Times Jobs survey which found that out of 556 employers, 33% of companies highlighted that social media negatively impacts productivity.
In a slightly less obvious pitfall of social media at work, research conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that the use of social media at work, contributed to reduced organisational retention levels. 76% of respondents at work used social media to show interest in other organisations found on social media platforms, in comparison to just 60% of individuals using social media for their own leisure, with the potential to reduce loyalty levels.
Is it right that employers monitor social media usage? Is it right to use this as evidence for disciplinary action if not directly connected with the business?
How to set the right expectations from the outset?
Your approach to social media and the policing of social media will depend on the organisation itself. Workplace policy can vary drastically dependant on three pivot points; culture, demographics and business proposition. A sales organisation is likely to encourage volume and mass interaction regardless of content (More difficult to control), where as a high-level tech or scientific business may value high level thought leadership (less difficult to control).
Setting expectations can be done quite simply with the use of a social media policy, the tricky bit is how to position this document and defining your stance on social media.
Saying ‘no’ to social media
An outright ban on social media in the workplace is probably the most black and white way to deal with the potential negative impacts of social media. However, saying ‘no’ to the use of social media at work is likely to stop a few, but headstrong employees are still going to come up with creative new ways to like and share posts online. This also does not give you the ability to harness the power of employees on social media for things such as brand advocacy.
Rationing social media
Suggesting times at which employees are able to use social media, is not an unfamiliar concept, when would you expect to see them make a call to a friend, book an appointment or grab something to eat? At lunch and during breaks, for most, these times for viewing and posting on social media are already acceptable and common practice, by detailing this in a social media policy you can more easily bring everyone onboard.
This approach gives you a good balance between control and employee freedoms to post and share, also giving you the opportunity to development employee advocacy.
Saying ‘yes’ to social media
Having no social media policy or one that allows unrestricted access can create a great deal of trust between you and your employees, dependant on your organisational culture this allows employees the freedom to view and post as and when they feel appropriate, fitting with the ‘micro break’ theory mentioned above and potentially boosting productivity. One caution with this is that where there is trust, there is mis-trust and those who will use social media more than is appropriate, lowering their productivity.
Another additional benefit to freedom within social media is that it can allow your employees to become advocates for your business, posting positive work-related content during work hours can help build network for your brand, creating additional exposure across the web. This is particularly true on websites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor whereby employers, employees, customers and future talent can all be placed together. Through this showcasing of a positive organisational culture to future talent, and customers, through the interactions of employees on social media – and what they have to say for the organisation could be significant in the perception of the company as a deciding factor of whether to join an organisation.
Don’t lose your employees to social media
Perhaps the most difficult challenge of social media use, as mentioned in the Harvard Business Review, is the exposure to more attractive employer brands and prevention of talent professionals approaching your employees on social media.
Access to these platforms, regardless of whether during working hours or not is always going to carry risk, retention needs to be taken offline and employers should look at the current incentives used to motivate their employees and whether these incentives are working. As perhaps if employees were fully motivated and engaged they wouldn’t be using social media platforms at work anyway, especially to search for new jobs and new companies whilst at work.