Sunday, 19 February 2012

Social Media - my HR perspective

I was recently reading again about the HR Manager who is claiming constructive dismissal after being disciplined for putting his CV on LinkedIn, stating that he was interested in ‘career opportunities’ and listing some achievements that had already been published in his company’s annual reports. There appear to be two distinct camps in the HR world – those who want to fully regulate and manage the use of social media by employees, and those who think it has grown organically already and cannot be regulated, but instead its opportunities should be recognised and welcomed.

In my organisation, we are developing a ‘social media policy’ although I am not fully convinced that we need one. We are planning to encourage all staff to have their say and to shape what we do through involvement in workshops to debate ‘social media’ at our imminent staff conferences.

So why am I not sure we need a ‘social media policy’? Well, I think that the issues that could arise are already covered in other HR policies or codes of conduct. I accept that there are differences with other forms of communication – the main ones being the speed of transmission, the size of the potential audience and the fact that once something is on line, it can be hard to erase (but can remain easy to find – sometimes years later.) Having said that, here are the issues as I see them.

1.     What is social media exactly? Well, I use some of the well known applications myself – Twitter obviously, Facebook and LinkedIn. I also use e mail, mobile phone messaging services and texting. There are also a number of applications that are completely alien to me – Foursquare, Digg, StumbleUpon, any virtual gaming worlds etc. My point is that there are so many that if any policy tried to identify them and differentiate from other more traditional forms of communication it would become out of date almost immediately (and incidentally, where does e mail sit here?)

2.     Poor or unprofessional behaviour or misconduct. Many people worry about bullying, harassment and bringing your employer into disrepute via social media. Accepting the note above about speed of transmission, why is this different when done over social media compared to any other form of communication? Whatever media is used, bullying, harassment, breaching confidentiality, insulting or slandering others, putting your own safety at risk etc. are all problematic from an employment perspective and most of them are potentially issues of misconduct.

3.    Protecting yourself, your safety and privacy. Clearly, there are many jobs where the post holders face the public or service users every day, and in many of these, they would be expected to uphold certain standards in their private lives as well as when on duty. Understanding privacy settings and knowing exactly what could be seen by anybody at all are absolutely critical. In most cases this is in order to maintain professional standards, but for some roles, it is important for safety as well – so nobody who you don’t want to, could gain access to your personal contact details. This could go into a ‘social media’ policy but I think it has an essential place in induction and ongoing support for personal safety and awareness.

4.    Using social media for private use at work. There is plenty of research now about how ‘young’ people use social media and would not be happy working somewhere where it is banned. I think this may apply to a number of us more ‘mature’ employees too! Again, I think all the issues are covered in existing conduct and disciplinary policies. It is all about reasonableness and when employees use social media. It is simply not possible to ban – for example most mobile phones can be used to access the internet wherever there is a signal. So if someone texts, or checks their status occasionally during the working day – say at lunchtime – I don’t think this is a problem. Excessive use timewise, or in a way that distracts the individual or colleagues from their work, is of course another matter – probably a disciplinary one. You get the gist!

5.    Using social media for work purposes. This is the exciting bit. In Probation we are on a roll now as more Trusts join Twitter. We are developing a vibrant and stimulating community and sharing ideas and news faster than ever before. Again, this needs to be done within certain parameters, with some focus and in a professional manner (albeit with some personality). I will enjoy my involvement with its ongoing development and look forward to learning from all our staff’s ideas.

To finish, I drafted this blog a couple of weeks ago. I delayed publishing it, as I had hoped to use a fabulous Social Media flowchart that did the rounds on Facebook a few months ago, but do not yet have permission from its author. However, I will end with a variation of the same theme. When deciding whether to post something on in the public domain, ask yourself “Would I be embarrassed if my parents/employers/potential employers/boss/colleagues/children (delete as appropriate) saw this?” If yes, do not post!