To Tweet Or Not To Tweet: Social media in the workplace

A couple of weeks ago I talked about my tips for a professional online profile, which I hope you found helpful. Now you’re settling into your workplace, are you tempted to use social media? Surely you’d expect that it would be banned by your employer? Surprisingly, research has shown that only 51% of employees report being aware of such a policy, and 77% use social media at work regardless (Olmstead et al. 2016). Therefore, at least some are ignoring their employer’s policies, creating an ethical debate around the use of social media in the workplace.

Take a look at this comical take on the problems caused by social media in the workplace (haveisharedtoomuch 2011)

ACAS, the UK’s employment disputes body suggest several ways in which employers can mitigate these new workplace concerns (ACAS n.d.). They state the policies are important, although as shown above these are not particularly widespread. Also, they emphasise the need for improved communication between parties regarding social media. Finally, it’s important that your other policies, such as those covering ‘cyber bullying’, are also up to date.

But what about the employee perspective? Spherion found that 30% of workers think that social media improves their job satisfaction and 39% that it enhances their productivity (Spherion 2015). Therefore, there is a group of workers who think, albeit subjectively, that their work lives are enhanced by social media. This is likely to be younger workers, as Olmstead et al. found that they were more likely to use social media at work. Interestingly, this seems to vary by employment sector. Starkly, Moran et al. (2011) found that 91% of academics surveyed had used social media professionally. Therefore it seems that a distinction should be made between social media for work, and personally using it in work time.

In recent years work, especially in white collar industries, is increasingly not a physical ‘place’. For many people, work is increasingly an activity that is completed in a range of spaces, whether that is the home, coffee shop etc. (see Felstead et al. 2005). The lines between home and work are increasingly ‘blurred’ (Abril et al. 2012). These people tend to be more independent, but can they be trusted to use social media effectively? Therefore, a dimension of this debate should be the extent that an employer’s policy can control employees in a complex employment picture.

I hope this short post has enlightened somewhat the debate around workplace social media. There are even more factors, such as employment screening (see Riley 2014 for more on this), that further complicate the issues. However, whether employer or employee, social media is changing workplace relationships.

Word count: 425

 

Social Media in the workplace
An infographic summarising the issues around social media in the workplace (own creation)

 

References

Abril et al. 2012 “Blurred Boundaries: Social Media Privacy and the Twenty-First-Century Employee” https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Patricia_Abril/publication/228311105_Blurred_Boundaries_Social_Media_Privacy_and_the_Twenty-First-Century_Employee/links/53d7ad290cf2e38c632dde93.pdf

ACAS n.d. ”Help & advice for employers and employees – Social media” http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3375

Felstead et al. 2005 “The shifting locations of work” http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0950017005053186

haveisharedtoomuch 2011 “Have I Shared Too Much?” video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoGADb_imtc

Moran et al. 2011 “Teaching, Learning, and Sharing: How Today’s Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media” http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED535130.pdf

Olmstead et al. 2016 “Social Media and the Workplace” Pew Internet Research http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/06/22/social-media-and-the-workplace/

Riley 2014 “Social media screening – is it ethical?” http://www.hrzone.com/talent/acquisition/social-media-screening-is-it-ethical

Spherion 2015 “The Emerging Workforce Study” http://www.spherion.com/ews/

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13 thoughts on “To Tweet Or Not To Tweet: Social media in the workplace

  1. Hi Mark,

    I enjoyed how informative your post was this week. Similarly, you and I both mentioned how social media can blur the line between personal and professional use. Additionally, your infographic was clear in examining both employers and employees.

    Regarding policies related and applied to ethical issues (i.e. cyber bullying), Voshel and Wesala (2015) highlighted subjectivity as a factor; employers and employees often have different views on how to handle social media in the workplace. In contrast, Lauby (2012), suggests that ethics should ‘blend’ in with social policies, indicating the importance of providing training for individuals to comply with both policies.

    However, I understand it is not that simple; the debate might not even have a definitive conclusion. Therefore, I believe further research is needed to explore the social media influence in workplaces. What are your thoughts on combining ethical and social media policies?

    Best wishes,
    Wei

    Word count: 148

    References:

    Lauby, S. (2012). Ethics and social media: Where should you draw the line? Mashable UK.

    Voshel, E. H., & Wesala, A. (2015). Social media & social work ethics: Determining best practices in an ambiguous reality. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 12(1), 67–76.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Wei,

      Thanks for your comment and kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Your comment raises an interesting perspective on these issues.

      It’s interesting that you highlight the combination of ethical and social media policies. It’s true that social media could be covered under other policies, for example bullying as ACAS highlights, I’d argue that this would fall short of what is required. Social media, in many senses, is a qualitative change in the interaction of people (inside or outside the workplace), where the nature of social interactions is changing. Yes, people can merely use social media as a new way to communicate with each other, but often in different ways. Firstly, social media keep a record, unlike most face to face communication. It also increases the pace of such interaction and does so regardless of physical proximity (see above my points as work no longer being a ‘workplace’ anymore). Bringing this back to the professional sphere, employers need to grasp this changing context in order to create complete and effective policies for social media. Of course, the rest of their policies should be up to date, but social media is something that needs to be tackled independently.

      I hope that helps! Just some quick thoughts in response to your ideas.

      Cheers,
      Mark.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Mark,

        Thank you for thorough reply. In light of a compelling discussion point, I would agree with you that social media policies need to be examined independently. With social media influencing business policies, it is important to question how effectively it can be implemented due to constant changes. After all, the digital world is always developing, particularly on large platforms, such as social media. Therefore, it is not always easy to implement such ethical guidelines.

        Gunkel (2015) states although policies should be put in place, it is pivotal that both individuals and organisations critically examine, plan and consider the outcomes of executing social media. Interestingly, US laws and regulations are being applied to govern social media in business companies (Mintz, 2016). Like you mentioned, this suggests that the policies need to be tackled independently.

        Regarding other ethics, what are your thoughts about employment screening? This brings back issues of authenticity, where the employee may be stressed about their social media profiles. I would like to hear your opinions on the controversial issue.

        Regards,
        Wei

        References:

        Gunkel, D. J. (2015). Social media: Changing the rules of business ethics. Northern Illinois University.

        Mintz, S. (2016). The ethics of using social media in the workplace. Workplace Ethics Advice.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Wei,

        Thanks for the continued enlightening discussion, this is a really interesting area.

        It’s interesting how you state the UN not being able to pass convention on the internet, ‘only policies which aim to safeguard users from harmful content’. I’d argue that sounds a lot like regulation! Regulation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the problem of working internationally is only going to increase (see brexit, Trump etc. and the rise of protectionist movements). This is fundamentally incompatible with the international nature of the Web and the Internet. I agree it is unethical for the US to control the Internet, even if it is acting as a benign policeman (for now). Should some kind of supranational organisation be set up to control it? That would be very tricky. Bringing this back to the UK, should we take a leading role in this area?

        Employment screening is a necessary evil. However, the question is should social media be involved? I agree that nevertheless, we should be careful about what we place online for all to see. Why do you say the electoral roll has more issues for employers? This is a complex area, however, I have little sympathy with those who’s profile has let them down, as it is them who choose to publish information.

        I’d love to hear your further thoughts.
        Thanks again,
        Mark.

        Like

    2. Hi Wei,

      Thanks again for the interesting points, apologies but WordPress will only let me reply here!

      I agree wholeheartedly with you that digital technology moves too quickly for traditional policies and laws (see Building the virtual state: Information technology and institutional change JE Fountain 2004). The legal world moves incomparably slowly compared to the pace of technological change. Therefore, I argue that any such law or policy should legislate for the effects of, and not the substance of, new technology. Fundamentally, new technology does not change basic human behaviours (with some notable exceptions). However, the technology itself may change dramatically. Therefore, regulation, policies and laws should be written with technological change in mind, taking account of the changing ways in which we interact. But the goals of these are unlikely to be much different. A final question for your point that “US laws and regulations are being applied to govern social media”. Should the US continue it’s legal monopoly on the regulation of the Internet and the Web (see https://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/07/19/blocking_iana_transition_republican_policy/).

      Employment screening is an interesting area. I myself have been through several of these in the past and have found them generally painful. Fortunately, none of these contained a social media section (as far as I know). However, if the individual has not properly screened and set the privacy on their profiles, should the employer be blamed at looking at the public record? In a similar way, one might look up the electoral roll or another public database. I don’t see this as a huge issue, although others might well think differently to me. What do you think?

      Cheers again for this discussion.

      Mark.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Mark,

        No worries!

        After reading the link you sent me, I think it is important to think about the motivations and reasons behind the regulation. After all, the Internet has dominated many aspects of our lives. The challenges that lie in creating a uniform regulation raises problems based on its collective action. Wu (2015) states that the U.N. cannot pass a convention that regulates the Internet; only policies which aim to safeguard users from harmful content. Although I think it is unethical for US officials to monitor individual accounts to access their content and restrict their freedom of speech; I think it is important that it still regulates against detrimental content, such as hacking, (cyber) terrorists, and child grooming. Therefore, again I think it depends on the situation and context for the US government to regulate the Web.

        Personally, I am against employment screening. However, I cannot deny the impact social media has on many lives today. Additionally, I also that believe individuals should be conscious of their social media. Thus, if employers do conduct these screenings, candidates should have no problem, as they have no compromising content. Regarding the last question, I do not think electoral roll or similar databases as a huge issue as social media has more impact on employers. It is always difficult with the conflicting points brought up.

        Best wishes,
        Wei

        References

        Wu, P. (2015). Impossible to regulate: social media, terrorists, and the role for the U.N. Chicago Journal of International Law, 16(1), 11.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Cet article est magnifique et ne dérange que les tièdes ou les anticathos qui voudraient qu’on mettre notre drapeau dans notre poche, eh bien désolé, l&poÃus;q©roque où nous devions raser les murs, c’est FINI! VIVE LE CCHRIST ROI

      Like

  2. Hi Mark,
    Ethical quandaries delineated around social media in the workplace were insightful, particularly exploring policies and regulations preventing social media use at work in principle are often flouted in practice, owing to personal and works ‘blurred lines’. The infographic, exploring how public spaces like coffee shops are used for work-related task, complements distinctions you made between ‘social media for work’ and ‘personal use in work time’, per Abril and colleague’s research https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228311105_Blurred_Boundaries_Social_Media_Privacy_and_the_Twenty-First-Century_Employee. I propose ‘work social media’ could expand these categories, as Leonardi and colleagues explore ‘Enterprise Social Media’ (ESM): platforms organisations manage intended to entice co-worker communication http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcc4.12029/epdf. Previous comments with Wei elaborated on Olmstead and colleagues observations that social media policies regulating use are often ignored in practice http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/06/22/social-media-and-the-workplace: I wondered what your views are on possible alternative practical solutions, such as ESMPs, to minimize ethical issues around workplace social media policies ignorance in practice?
    Cheers,
    Wil

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Wil,

      Thanks for your comment and your kind words on my post.

      Enterprise Social Media is a great insight into this issue. As I’m sure you know companies such as Facebook are moving into this space. In my personal experience, I’ve seen various ESMs deployed in workplaces I’ve been in and generally I’ve found them helpful. I find they bring the gap between formal email and face to face communication, especially with those in remote locations. Therefore, this is definitely something to watch in the future. Do you see their use increasing? Unlike other forms of social media they are very much based on the employer (they must set it up).

      Secondly, you mention how policies are often ignored, and I fear this is true. It is important to note that policies in the workplace can lead to dismissal etc., so really shouldn’t be! However, what is really needed is a culture change. This would allow employees and employers to frankly share and reach consensus on these issues. A policy alone, as Olmstead points out, is unlikely to change behaviour. What is required is for a ‘natural order’ to be established. Lots of things are done in a certain way in the workplace already, social media needs to find this ground. Do you agree?

      Thanks again for a great comment and an interesting discussion!

      Cheers,
      Mark.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Mark,

        Thanks for your post, reply and answers to questions,

        I have explored shifts Facebook make into this space, particularly around the ‘culture of connectivity’ Van Dijck highlights platforms fashion: shifting social networks previously intended for ‘personal’ use towards use for business purposes (2013, p.46 at http://lib.myilibrary.com/Open.aspx?id=477037, may require VPN / Southampton University Network access to view)

        What ESMs have you encountered? ESMs could bridge gaps between formality in email and face-to-face communication remotely, but I wonder if these gaps are necessary, and if platforms will work in all workplaces and cultures: what do you think?

        I see principles driving ESMs necessity increasing, but not necessarily use. I think, previous technology implementations and ‘unintended consequences’ technology sometimes brings http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/4111/2111-home/CD/TheoryClass/Readings/MertonSocialAction.pdf, such as the Web’s development and growth through platforms like Facebook as Debatin and colleagues outline, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01494.x/full, means I don’t think it’s possible to be sure that ESMs usage will increase. What do you think?

        What would this ‘natural order’ be that you mention, and how do you think it could be established: through cultural changes alone, as you mentioned, or other ways?

        I have mentioned in previous posts how platform functionalities, often designed with corporate interests in mind, shape ways people use social media. ESMs interestingly bring to the fore platform functionalities designed for work, by work, about work. There is often, however, an important role in ‘agency’, ways people use platforms to achieve given effects: I find Jose Van Dijcks’ work around agency, specifically about YouTube, generally aptly at highlighting roles users play in shaping platforms inasmuch as platforms shaping users http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0163443708098245. I think a culture change would require both in social media finding ground and users. I agree social media platforms need to find this ground, but actors, stakeholders and structures within also need to find this ground, as both structures comprising social media and agency within for users, in my view, shape this. What do you think?

        Many thanks for your reply and discussion! I would be happy to elaborate further, should you be interested?

        Cheers,

        Wil

        Liked by 1 person

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