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Rules of Engagement on Social Media

July 24, 2010
by Tim Tolan
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The personal use of social media while working for an employer has me fired up and feel like ranting a bit – so that’s the plan for this rant! OK? Thank You!

What I can’t understand about many of the Generation Y is some of their habits while working on company time. I just don’t get it - NOPE. An employer hires an employee for the sole purpose of performing a specific job based on the skills they bring to the table. Guess what? Employers are not interested in having (and paying) employees to add photos and other content to their myspace.com page during working hours. That brings no value to the employer. And I mean NONE. That also applies to updating or replying to a posting on facebook.com. No place for that in the workplace either, NONE.

I have nothing against employees using social networks on their own time and think Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are great social media platforms to stay connected with their friends, family and classmates – all good. They are great tools in business as well – and that is exciting! I use them in my search practice every day. But its business related. All updating and posting of personal social media content should be done on the employee’s own time. That’s where I draw the line. Using these social networks on the employers nickel is just plain wrong. No exceptions - sorry. Employers hire employees and the value exchange in this relationship requires the employee to perform certain job functions in exchange for receiving a specified amount of compensation for their work effort. Spending time on social networking sites to update or post, comment, upload or just “check” the account for updates are grounds for the employer to take action for the lost productivity realized by the actions of the employee. Some experts are concerned about the security risks involved when employees access some of these sites. That is clearly an issue that needs to be resolved.

Many companies have banned the use of social media to curb its use during company hours – but it’s a real challenge. I wish it was getting better – but this challenge appears to be getting worse for employers all over the world. On any given day, employers can walk by an employee’s desk and the evidence is overwhelming. In a split second (all of the sudden) they will see an employee’s computer screen change in a nanosecond. One quick mouse click (lightning fast) will minimize the window on their screen and return the user back to another screen related to their work in an effort to convince the employer that they are working (really) hard. C’mon. This is a minor form of theft. It’s just wrong. Companies need rules and guidelines on the use of social media that is not business related - and need to clearly set boundaries with their staff.

I think I have said enough here. Please know social media is HUGE (I use it every day in my business) and it clearly has a place for both personal use and business use.

It’s just the intertwining of its use in personal vs. business that I have a problem with. A real problem…

Topics

Comments

Frank:

I feel great! And...I get your point on management (remember - I used to work for you!). However, while an employee is being compensated by their employer to conduct business - that's what they need to be doing. Updating a new photo on MySpace does not qualify. I'm just saying.

Gwen's nailed the HR realities of the situation.

As far as technical realities, there's a nice podcast feed available from "BusinessWeek CEO Guide To Technology." In their July 7, 2010 release, titled "Bringing iPads to Work", they offer the description "Should CIOs Ban Them?"

They conclude, as did Gwen, that the cat is out of the bag. What is needed is an open policy, boundaries as Gwen elaborated, and accountability.

They note that the world is so different than ten years ago that blanket intolerance is nonsensical, except as the focus of an entertaining rant.

Tim,
Ranting is good, as long as it's infrequent, makes a point, and can be contained to 60 to 90 seconds. I get your point and agree. I think it's a mistake, however, to limit your scope to social media. The bigger issue is focus and prioritizing ones work, including doing more for the company than is expected.

Do you draw a distinction between social media and recreational (non-business related) web surfing, personal email, and other personal tasks (scheduling doctors/dentist appointments, buying movie tickets, etc)?

Joe: I feel strongly about this topic (sorry). This post was specifically focused on the personal use of social media while working. I will attack (or rant) web surfing, text messaging, cell phone abuse and other non work-related issues in another post. As I said, it's just the intertwining of using these tools (personal vs. business) that I have a problem with...

Tim,

You must have known I'd weigh in here!

You're right - employees conducting personal business on company time is a tough issue that all of us in management have had to deal with at one time or another. Once upon a time I fired an otherwise top-notch accountant for surfing porn - warned him once, fired him on strike two.

Every company needs a written Internet policy that outlines what's acceptable and what's not. However, IMO, these guidelines shouldn't be as restrictive as completely outlawing "personal" time online altogether. My bare-bones policy would be no porn, no downloading executables that might wreak havoc (most companies have safeguards against this practice in place anyway) and no audio without headphones. As far as social media, shopping, and all the rest goes - as a manager, I've never had the time or inclination to babysit, and if they're not doing it on their work computer, they can now do it on their smart phones.

So, my bottom line on this issue is - set the basic rules (absolute no-nos), foster and demand an environment of respect in the workplace, set clear goals and desired outcomes for each employee, and then let them do their thing. If an employee is spending too much time uploading MySpace photos, it will soon become evident in their performance evals.

My two cents.

That being said, I do love it when you rant.

G.

I (absolutely) knew you would throw sooner or later in on this topic Gwen! I can usually count on you and Joe to banter ideas back and forth on a number of topics. But...Social Media is your "sweet spot". What took you so long?

Tim...
Must have had a hard day? Hope your feeling better.

I think this rant was first written (in ink on paper) in 1920. Just think, people while at the office were using that new fangled thing called a phone to call home and friends. The 'solution' to stop this abuse was management. Same for today.

But hey, keep on ranting if it helps you feel better.

Tim Tolan

Senior Partner, Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice

@@TimTolan

http://sanfordrose.net/thetolangroup/

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