Social Media in the Workplace: Do you have a Facebook Policy?

With all of the recent buzz in the media about Facebook we thought it a good time to address the topic of employees use of Facebook at work. Regardless of your industry, your employees are using Facebook, whether at work or at home, and they may be talking about you!

The Facebook dilemma is not new – it is simply the “next step” of communications. For decades employers have been faced with how to handle employees’ use of company time to participate in personal communications. This decade it is Facebook and other social networking sites. Last decade it was the use of email for personal correspondence and accessing personal email from work. The decade prior it was voicemail; employees using a work phone to access personal voicemail messages.

As with all policies, your social media policies should be addressed in a manner consistent with the company philosophy and other like policies. Things to consider include:

  • What is your culture? Is it informal – promoting independence where you allow employees to track their own time? Or is it formal and more structured – requiring strict monitoring of employees’ time and the use of a time clock? Do you have a lot of hourly employees and a tight production flow?
  • How do you currently handle employees’ personal use of email and phone? If your current policies restrict their use to breaks and lunch, then the use of Facebook should also be restricted to those times.

Just as you provide employees with guidelines for phone and email etiquette, your policies should provide employees with social networking etiquette. Some important things to remind your employees are:

  • It is critical that employees understand that what they write never goes away. It is stored indefinitely and can come back to haunt them when they least expect it.
  • Just like with email, employees should be reminded that when they write or chat via social networking they would be wise to allow some time to evaluate whether it is appropriate. When in doubt or in a highly emotional state, it is wise to take a few moments to consider what they are saying.
  • When using any kind of company social networking site/tool, you are speaking on behalf of the company. All communications, regardless of the medium, should be treated as such. Many companies require that any public communication regarding the company be proofed by the marketing department or a member of management prior to being released.
  • When using a company social networking site/tool, security is important and your IT department should be involved to ensure that security can’t be breached.

So, how do you best control what is being said about you? How can you ensure that your employees put out only positive messages about your company? The reality is that you cannot control what your employees say. The best course of action is to embrace this new technology and do your best to influence what is said about you by focusing on happy employees rather than restrictive policies.

Here are a few things you can do to help create a feeling of acceptance and goodwill:

  • Start using the technology. Create company Facebook pages and usage policies and then model the behavior you expect.
  • Once you have developed a policy, clearly explain it to your employees. Make sure they understand and have the opportunity to ask questions.
  • Offer training to all employees on how to use the tools that includes appropriate and inappropriate use.
  • Create space for a conversation between the different generations to help bridge the gap between the younger generations’ understanding and use of the tools and the older generations’ perspective that these tools are time-wasters.

Social networking as a communication is not going to go away so employers and employees will have an advantage if they learn to use it for business in a positive manner. And remember, if you don’t like it, don’t worry, next decade something else will take its place.

Many thanks to Kim Kimbell, Resourceful HR consultant, who collaborated on this post.

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