It's time to get your social media policy in place!
Workforce Guardian - Australia's leading online employment relations service for employers
Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and a multitude of other social networking sites are a fact of life for millions of Australians across all generations. In these spaces, the separation between your personal life and your business or work life is becoming increasingly blurred.
Sadly, it's an undeniable fact that while most business owners and managers are happy for their always on/always connected employees to take work home with them - there's often more than a raised eyebrow when these same employees bring their personal life to work!
I get inundated with calls from frustrated employers needing help managing the use of social media at work. "Can I stop my employees using Facebook at work?" and "Can I discipline employees for using social networking sites during work time?" are two typical requests.
Of course the simple answer is "yes you can". You can prohibit social media and networking at your place of work as long as you've clearly articulated this in your social media policy and have communicated it effectively with all of your employees.
But here's the thing - do you really want to?
If social media really is a productivity drain at your place of work, then of course you must do something about it. But an outright ban probably isn't the best solution particularly if you're keen to attract and retain Gen Y. Banning it in your workplace isn't going to keep your employees off social networking sites.
After all, anyone with web access can establish a Twitter presence or a Facebook page and start criticising your business or sharing negative comments about your products, people, financials and future.
A far better approach is to embrace social media in your business. But first set down some pretty clear rules, though make sure you're not impinging on your employees' workplace rights.
As a case in point, when the Commonwealth Bank put out its social policy, it was accompanied by headlines in The Australian like: "Bank threatens staff with sack over social media comments," coupled with demands by the Finance Sector Union for the bank to suspend its policy. The FSU argued that the bank was breaching the Fair Work Act, impinging on employees' workplace rights.
In particular the FSU claimed that the social media policy did not reflect the contractual employment conditions and that it extended beyond conduct that could be regarded as involving damage to the bank's reputation.
To the Commonwealth Bank's credit, a number of revisions to the policy were turned around quickly and the use of mandatory language was softened. The requirement for employees to immediately notify their manager if they discover inappropriate or disparaging material posted by any person - has been replaced with a much nicer request that should they become aware of any such material, they could assist the bank by immediately notifying their manager.
Interestingly, the bank's warning about the disciplinary consequences which led to that brazen headline in The Australian has also been amended. The policy now states that employees risk dismissal only in serious cases.
Of course, to have teeth, any social media policy must include consequences for violations. It's critical that you spell out that violation of the policy can result in disciplinary action, including termination.
As I mentioned earlier, to embrace social media in your business, you need to set down some pretty clear rules.
For instance, limit (do not prohibit or ban) access to social media during breaks. And be clear about how much your employees can divulge about your company. You want your employees to understand that your company's designated media spokesperson represents your company to the media - not them. It's also essential that you do prohibit your employees from disclosing confidential or sensitive information.
You also must be clear that using social networks to harass, defame or embarrass colleagues or anyone for that matter, is inappropriate, will not be tolerated and is a dismissible offence.
Social Media Webinar
To help business owners and managers understand social media at work we're running a special webinar on March 16th. With special guest, Mike Hickinbotham, Social Media Senior Advisor at Telstra, we'll be answering common questions such as using Facebook to monitor employees and vet new recruits.
We'll also be discussing the positive reasons to leverage social media as well as the important things you need to consider in order to effectively manage its use in your workplace. There will also be tips for creating an effective social media policy.
Make sure you don't miss out!
Wednesday Mar 16, 2011, 12:00 PM AEDST
This article is intended to provide commentary and general information. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice may be necessary in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this article. Workforce Guardian Pty Ltd (http://www.workforceguardian.com.au/) is not responsible for the results of any actions taken on the basis of information in this article, nor for any error or omission in this article.