Social Networking in the Workplace

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Much has been written about social networking and the appropriateness of it in the workplace. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are growing rapidly in use and influence. There is clearly an impact on productivity and it is a modern phenomenon that cannot be ignored. For employers, the focus is on how to manage these activities.

Most companies have policies around the use of computers for personal use, but do companies really have the control they think they do? Is a complete ban on social networking the answer?

There are benefits and pitfalls to employees engaging in social networking from a business perspective:

Benefits:

  • A positive and happy employee is likely to post happy and positive messages - this can work as a good PR tool for potential clients and prospective employees
  • Can be used as an information gathering tool
  • Can be used to provide information to a wide range of people very quickly
  • For certain industries it is a useful tool for tracking stories and events worldwide which you otherwise would not have access to
  • Companies may wish to use to determine what marketing impact they are getting by tracking the number of posts containing the company name and what people are saying about the company

Pitfalls:

  • A productivity killer and time waster
  • Can be a distraction to the day-to-day job of the employee
  • Can potentially get personal resulting in a distracted and possibly upset employee
  • Negative posts can affect client perspectives
  • There is potential for mistakes to be made, such as posting something about a colleague or the business which is then picked up by someone who should not have seen it
  • It is difficult to control and on the whole, provides no immediately discernable advantage to businesses

There are a number of ways to manage social networking at work:

  1. Ban altogether - This approach is not likely to work. However, companies do have the right to ban all computer activity that is not work related.
  2. Accept it and manage it - For example, have a policy which allows a restricted amount of time social networking, for example, 30 minutes during lunch or outside of hours.

At present there is no employment law or regulation which requires organizations to have a policy on electronic communications, but it is best practice to have a comprehensive policy in place to prevent abuse of the system. However, a policy in isolation is not going to work. Merely handing an employee a policy handbook containing an electronic communications and business conduct policy, is not going to stop people social networking at work. Policy details need to be communicated clearly and effectively with an emphasis on the consequences of not adhering to the policy. It is recommended that, as part of the new employee orientation process, details of the policy and consequences for not adhering to the policy should be laid out comprehensively.

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Harrisburg Magazine Readers' Choice 2011