Social media use in the office – should you welcome it, or approach with caution?

Social media usage has grown enormously over recent years, and Facebook is the biggest social network worldwide; it saw more than 2.41 billion monthly active users for the second quarter of 2019.

Countless other social media networks such as WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter also have millions of users each month – and continue to grow. Undoubtedly, social media is now part-and-parcel of modern life. So much so that whole careers and strategies are based around using social media for marketing, brand development and other commercial practices.

However, it can be difficult for senior teams and company owners to know how to approach social media in the workplace; and how to approach their staff when issue may arise through the use of social media.

For example, what would happen if a member of the team was to criticise their company and/or boss on Twitter? What action is reasonable for an employer to take to address a cringe-worthy Facebook update posted by a team member? And what about dealing with the more serious side of WhatsApp messages?

Here at Anne Corder Recruitment, we’ve recently issued some advice to help all business owners, but particularly SMEs, who may not have the luxury of an in-house, specialist HR team.

ACR’s recruitment partner, Karen Dykes, advises: “Social media networks are developing rapidly in today’s environment. New channels and new methods of communication are emerging all the time.

“Many employers wish to address the use of social media in their workplace. Sometimes, senior leadership teams will want to prevent their employees from using social media sites whilst at work, or may want to monitor online activity from their staff. If this is the case, these rules must be covered in the company’s social networking policy. This way, if any rules are breached, the behaviour would count as misconduct, and can therefore be dealt with accordingly.

“Employers may also find cause for concern in what is posted on social media platforms by staff members. These comments can amount to breach of contract, defamation or breach of client confidentiality. These are potentially damaging to the reputation of a business. In this case, employers may take steps to redress, much as if the breach had been in the office, offline.

“As a rule of thumb, if something is unlawful offline, it is unlawful online. Moreover, bearing in mind employers’ vicarious liability for the acts of their employees, HR Managers, or those responsible for this, should make sure they have control processed in place to deal with misuse.”

In October 2019, a housing officer lost his claim for unfair dismissal when he was found to have used a WhatsApp group with colleagues he had set up to make comments on another member of staff.

This member of staff had made comments on the woman’s speech, personal hygiene and weight and described her as ‘autistic’, which amounted to bullying in the eyes of his employers.

He was immediately suspended when bosses became aware of the messages in April 2018 and was found guilty of gross misconduct. A tribunal backed the dismissal.

Key points worth considering if you don’t have a social media policy:

What is your policy if an employee uses Facebook, or another social networking site, during work time? Is it acceptable, or a definite ‘no’? Some personal time may be okay, but as a business, you do not want it taking over the work day. A rule that clarifies what is acceptable for personal use of the internet in the office ensures both parties know where they stand.

Do not try and manage the situation by monitoring your staff’s use of emails and internet. Not only are there data protection rules that this breaches (yes, even at work!), but it also impacts on the trust between the employer and employee, and that is difficult to regain.

It is likely that your team will be using social media away from work. It may be worth reminding them about privacy settings, and the potential impact if they are talking about work to colleagues or friends. Social media does not have boundaries; teams need to remain protected by harassment and bullying policies whether they are in the office or not.

Treat social media conversations the same way you would treat offline behaviour, if an issue does arise.

Nowadays, social media is an integral part of everyday life. In many businesses, it is an important tool for staying in touch. Therefore, trying to keep personal use outside of the workplace will be challenging due to these blurred lines.

Something to think about…

Five unwritten social media rules for employees:

Don’t post negative comments or criticisms about your boss or company online

Don’t upload drunken photos

Don’t compromise confidentiality agreements, or divulge company secrets

Don’t spend time and brainpower on useless online fighting or arguments

Don’t post anything you wouldn’t be happy sharing with your boss