Over recent years, the use and misuse of social media in the workplace has been under the spotlight. There have been numerous instances reported in the media about employees tweeting their way to a sharp exit. There have been inappropriate statements such as when thirteen Virgin Cabin Crew staff were reportedly dismissed for calling their customers “chavs” on social media.
While instances such as this are becoming increasingly rare these days, there are still cases that have the potential not only to result in a potential job loss or a formal reprimand, but can also cause extreme pain for the company. There are also incidences where the prank or ill-timed or executed comment does not originate from within, but from external sources. Take the recent example concerning Greggs’ company logo. The logo was doctored, which led to a social media storm and an ensuing campaign directed at Google on Twitter with the hashtag #fixgreggs. It was fixed and Greggs responded in a jokey way on social media, which did serve to limit the potential for damage and further embarrassment.
The rise of social media means that potential issues look set to increase and not abate. Some estimates report that misuse of the internet and social media by workers costs Britain's economy billions of pounds every year. Many employers are already grappling with issues like time theft, defamation, cyber bullying, freedom of speech and the invasion of privacy.
With Facebook’s 1.5bn users worldwide and Twitter’s 200m, social media clearly represents a dynamic tool to promote businesses, reach untapped audiences, attract new staff and allow clients to feel engaged with the services being provided. With employees increasingly bringing their own devices into the workplace and blurring the lines between what’s public and what’s private, it can also be a major security concern. Fundamentally, many still do not realise that the difference between a chat on Facebook and one in a public space is that social media posting constitutes publication and dissemination to a potential audience of millions.
Employers should draft a policy which deals with the degree to which they are happy for employees to use online networking for either their personal or professional use. Many employers are happy for this use to be confined to lunch or other breaks. Other employers might allow blocks of time during the day to be spent on any important online activity. Whilst employers cannot insist that employees stop using social networking services, it is reasonable to impose limits on personal use at work – or ban its use in company time completely – particularly if an employee's conduct online causes potential damage to the organisation.