Social media is a cultural constant, but employees have various opinions on the role of social media at work. A majority of workers (57%) think most social media use in the workplace is unprofessional, according to a new Monster poll.
“If employees are sitting there and they’re on social media half the day while everybody else is trying to get their job done, I can understand thinking it’s unprofessional,” says Cornelia Gamlem, a speaker and consultant and co-author of The Big Book of HR.
From appropriate social media use to employee panic at the thought of their employer finding them online, here’s the lay of the social media land:
Social Media Use at Work
Despite many workers feeling like personal social media use at work is off limits, 42% of workers spend up to four hours on social media for personal use during work hours (excluding work-related social media like LinkedIn). And 22% of workers use social media to take mental health breaks during work.
Regarding the first statistic, Mikaela Kiner, founder and CEO at HR consulting firm Reverb, questions any employee spending that much time on social media. “You can’t possibly have a challenging enough job if you have four hours to spare,” she says.
As for mental health breaks, Kiner points out that everyone takes a little time throughout the day. “Whether I’m going to get up and walk around the block or grab a glass of water and chat with my colleagues, we need breaks,” she says. “Whatever people are doing during that time — as long as it’s not illegal or inappropriate, do whatever it is you need to do.”
Workers Have Privacy Concerns
Half of workers prefer their employers not follow them on social media so that they can avoid mixing their personal and professional lives, Monster’s poll found. And 30% think that their CEO finding and following their personal social media account is scarier than holding a spider or snake, skydiving, going to the dentist, and blind dates.
Further, 56% of employees think it’s unethical for employers to scan or scroll through their employees’ social media accounts, excluding work-related social media like LinkedIn.
But if a social media account is publicly viewable, there’s always a chance that an employer will run into it. “These things are all in the public domain, and many employers actually make a habit of looking at the social media of candidates,” Kiner says. “It’s a place where employers can learn about you.”
A public account can definitely get an employee into trouble. One woman in Denver was reportedly fired from a new job after she posted several videos on TikTok about her salary. A public relations executive was fired after posting an offensive remark on Twitter.
(And a private account isn’t necessarily foolproof if the wrong person takes a screenshot and shares.)
Managing Social Media in the Workplace
A comprehensive social media policy can help prevent issues at work. “People are going to be on social media,” says Kathi Kruse, a social media strategist with Kruse Control Inc. “I find it better to have a policy that tells them what they should and shouldn’t do.”
An employer’s social media policy will depend on the industry, but in general, it should address intellectual property, use of company logos, not holding oneself out as speaking for the company without authorization and not publishing content that may be offensive or illegal in circumstances in which the employee may be perceived as speaking for the company, says David Miller, a labor and employment attorney at Bryant Miller Olive P.A.
Policies “may also deal with topics such as disloyalty to the company (i.e., encouraging an illegal boycott or other illegal acts), discrimination, ‘hate speech’ and the like,” Miller says.
But he also points out that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is looking more closely at private sector social media policies with an eye toward whether or not restricting employee activity is legal.
“Thus, employers should frequently check their policies to make sure they are compliant,” Miller says. “What was legal yesterday may not be legal tomorrow.”
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