Should Employees Use Social Media at Work?

Posted in: small business, small business news, social media, staffing, staffing industry- Oct 16, 2014 Comments Off
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by Bridget Miller

Whether employees should be allowed to use social media in the workplace is a question employers struggle with. Employers need to strike a balance with employee productivity, employee satisfaction, employer security, and even compliance with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

So, should employees be allowed to use social media at work? Let’s take a look at several different perspectives on this question:

  1. Will it affect employee productivity?.
  2. Are employees acting as representatives of the employer on social media?
  3. Does restricting social media reduce the employees’ right to discuss workplace conditions?.

 

These are just some of the considerations an employer faces when deciding their social media stance, but these are good ones to start with. Here’s a closer look.

Will Employee Social Media Use Impact Productivity?

This question may not be as straightforward as it outwardly seems. It’s tempting to assume that, yes, employee productivity will definitely be decreased if social media use is allowed at work. After all, it’s all too easy to get distracted by a flurry of new updates from friends, and before you know it, 10 minutes has turned into an hour. There’s no question this is a risk—and it’s a risk that leads many employers to remove social media access from work devices altogether.

On the other hand, it could be argued, employees are certainly going to take breaks anyway, and they may already have access to social media accounts on their phones or other personal devices. So prohibiting or blocking social media access on work devices can be less effective at curbing productivity loss than it might seem. And doing so could even reduce employee satisfaction—which could negatively affect productivity more in the long run than checking on the latest viral video ever would.

Additionally, the simple act of taking a break—even if that break is to check Facebook—can help an employee regain focus when returning to the task at hand, and thus be more productive overall.

The question is: How can an employer strike that balance between allowing limited social media use yet not allowing employees to abuse the privilege?

Some employers have found it useful to compare improper Internet use to other productivity-busting activities, such as long personal phone calls. If we look at this example, we know that most employers haven’t banned personal phone calls, but they likely have policies in place for phone use, including disciplinary actions for abuse. This tactic can be applied to social media as well in many cases.

Are Employees Acting as a Representative of the Employer on Social Media?

This second issue introduces a whole new perspective to the question. In addition to looking at personal social media use, the employer also needs to consider whether their social media policy should address employees using social media as representatives of the company—regardless of whether they’re using social media during or after work hours.

If an employee is knowingly representing the whole organization with each social media post (such as the actions of the company’s social media director), this warrants a much more thorough policy, training, and guidance. This should be a given. Where it gets more complicated is when employees (who are not operating in an official capacity) take it upon themselves to act on behalf of the organization—sometimes even accidentally. For example, if an employee maintains a blog and it is known on the blog that the individual works for a specific organization, then that person’s statements could be taken to represent the organization. It can even get the employer into legal trouble if the employee oversteps any legal boundaries.

Because of the inherent ambiguity of determining when an employee might appear to be acting as his or her employer, many employers have opted to include a clause in their social media policy that prohibits employees from stating the employment relationship on their personal online accounts. In simpler terms: they advise employees to not list their employer. It may seem extreme, but it removes the ambiguity and reduces the risk.

If employees are talking up your products, they must reveal their relationship to the company.

Does Restricting Social Media Reduce the Employees’ Right to Discuss Workplace Conditions?

Our last point is simple but it’s quite important. As most employers know, the NLRA protects an employee’s right to discuss the terms and conditions of employment. In today’s technological environment, these discussions often end up on social media. As a result, even simple social media posts could even become “concerted activity”—which is a protected right. If a social media post is protected, can social media use be banned at all?

The answer is actually yes, the employer can ban social media use at work. The employer can restrict it or give free reign or something in between. But while employers may still be able to restrict social media access at work, they should be careful not to overstep this boundary. Overly-restrictive social media prohibitions can cross the line.

Typically, employers run into problems by being too prescriptive in what posts are prohibited. A good example would be prohibiting any public complaint about the company. This type of prohibition is often done under the guise of protecting company reputation, but it is a good example of a social media policy that could run afoul of the NLRA. This is because those posts could be deemed to be concerted activity. (The NLRB has released guidance for employers constructing social media policies).

What’s the Verdict? Should Employees Use Social Media at Work?

So, should employees use social media at work? Or should employers ban or restrict it? Like many things in business and in life, the true answer is: it depends. It depends on what the employer is trying to achieve. It depends on how disruptive social media use is in the workplace. It depends on whether employees value the ability to be able to periodically check on their social media accounts. Employers need to weigh each of these aspects and more when making their decision.

Article Source: Miller, B. (2014).  Should employees use social media at work. HR Daily Advisor. Retrieved from  http://hrdailyadvisor.blr.com/2014/04/25/should-employees-use-social-media-at-work/#