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Social Media & HR

» Posted on: 30 July 2012

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Social media usage in the UK is growing phenomenally; Facebook has over 30 million UK users, Twitter has 10 million and LinkedIn has 9 million members. This means that the majority of your employees are likely to be communicating via at least one of these networks. However, research has shown that just over 70% of businesses do not monitor social networking sites at work and there is a huge increase in cyber crime and employment law cases relating to social media.

This article looks at the different aspects of social media linked to the HR function – from the positive influence on employee engagement the potential pitfalls, including publicised legal cases.

The Good
According to Michael Moran, Chef Executive of career and talent management consultancy 10eighty, social media will change the way we run our businesses and the era of the annual engagement survey is becoming extinct. In its place, new digital platforms are being used to share views and collect real-time employee data. These include:

  • Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.co.uk), which has a number of pre-prepared HR templates and also offers survey customisation
  • Yammer (www.yammer.com), a private social network that facilitates sharing amongst employees and helps develop a collaborative culture. This social media platform is being used successfully by Essex County Council to encourage employees to share views
  • The company that created Tesco’s Clubcard, Dunnhumby (www.dunnhumby.com), has also worked with the retailer to roll-out an employee engagement survey that helps build HR strategy based on what people actually want

There are also an increasing number of websites that recommend employers – LinkedIn provides online CVs of millions of employees (including how long they have stayed with a company) and the US site www.glassdoor.com is about to enter the UK market, which rates CEOs according to how well they perform and provides unbiased reviews of what organisation’s are like to work for.

These developments are important because the MacLeod employee engagement report, commissioned by the Department of Business Innovation & Skills (www.BIS.gov.uk), shows that just a 10% increase in engagement adds £1,500 per person to the bottom line. The key four areas of engagement are: leadership, voice, integrity and engaging managers. Social media can help increase engagement by giving employees a voice.

Moran believes that HR used to be about fairness and consistency but it has evolved to ‘mass customisation’. It’s a bit like what’s happening to the automotive industry – you buy the core shell of a car and then customise it. Likewise, HR practitioners are now being asked to personalise employment contracts and employee development.

Ultimately, social media is changing employees’ expectations of employers and HR practitioners either recognise this and adapt or choose to ignore it and fall behind. The social media revolution has started and there’s no going back.

The Bad
On the flip side, social media can also generate huge problems for organisations – as seen by digital forensics specialist Cy4or. The computer crime investigation company have seen a large increase in social media being abused in the workplace.

The five key areas of concern are:

  1. Information security - (people tend to trust links sent to them via social media because they are from someone they know. However, clicking on certain links can download harmful malware onto the IT system).
  2. Productivity - ‘cyberslacking’ is becoming more prevalent in employees and bandwidth hogging is a big issue for some companies (especially smaller businesses). The latter is usually caused by streaming media and can cause external and internal communications to slow down considerably.
  3. Criminal – using a company’s IT system to post criminal information
  4. Civil & Litigation – there is a huge increase of litigation cases that use information collected on Facebook
  5. Employment – sometimes what’s posted outside of work (especially online rants after a few glasses of wine on a Friday night) can affect a persons employment because they can be damaging for a company’s reputation

One of the most concerning aspects of the ‘bad’ side of social media is that a recent survey by Proskauer (www.proskauer.com) has shown that 72.6% of employers don’t monitor social networking sites at work. Employers need to consider the importance of their reputation and make sure that they have social media controls in place with clear plans of how they are going to act if an issue is discovered.

The Ugly
Will Clayton, employment law partner at Taylors Solicitors, has seen an increasing number of cases where an employee’s private social media usage has affected their employer / employment adversely. The difficulty is knowing where the line should be drawn between an employee’s private life and their responsibilities towards their employer.

A pre-social media employment law case, Singh v London Country Business Services Ltd [1976], provides a long established principle: ‘employees are not prevented from challenging conduct just because it happens outside of work so long as it could or is thought likely to affect the employee or his work’.
This principle can directly be applied to social media usage – as shown by the recent case of Kirsty Cook-Bell, a 33 year old science teacher who posted semi-naked pictures of herself, with her face smeared in lipstick, on Facebook. The pictures were seen by pupils at her school (which is backed by a Christian Charity) and the school suspended her.

Another example is the case of thirteen Virgin Atlantic crew members who branded passengers as ‘chavs’ and mocked the airline’s safety on their Facebook pages. The airline took action against all 13 staff who took part, on the basis that their behaviour was totally inappropriate and they brought the company into disrepute.

Will Clayton personally advised on the case of Mr K Gosden v Lifeline Project. His client, The Lifeline Project, is a charity that specialises in harm prevention and recovery services for drug and alcohol dependent users. The charity’s largest client is HMPS – providing the organisation with full time employees to work across a number of prisons.

This particular case involved a prison offer (Mr Gosden) sending an email from his private hotmail email address one Saturday evening to a private email address of an acquaintance who was connected with HMPS. The recipient then forwarded the email to his colleagues within HMPS. This prompted disciplinary action within the prison. The trail led back to Mr Gosden and HMPS communicated their serious concerns to Lifeline over the content of Mr Gosden’s email. The email contained racist, sexist and anti-Islamic content and images.

Lifeline has a clear and published commitment to equality and diversity. The charity’s record for not discriminating in its services and in combating discrimination at work is a significant factor in its ability to continue to win contracts from public sector organisations. In this particular case, Mr Gosden’s private behaviour was considered so inconsistent with the values of the organisation that Lifeline subsequently dismissed him for gross misconduct. At the Employment Tribunal Hearing of Mr Gosden’s claim of unfair dismissal he sought to argue that his actions were private and because it was not Mr Gosden who sent the email into the prisons but a third party outside of his control, it was not fair to blame him for that. The Tribunal disagreed and found that Lifeline’s actions in dismissing Mr Gosden were fair and reasonable in all the circumstances and that any right that Mr Gosden had to privacy did not outweigh Lifeline’s rights to take these steps to protect its own reputation.

According to Clayton, the main factors to consider when considering how to address private social media use by employees which could be seen to be inappropriate are:

  • the known and the potential readership
  • the strength of any claim to privacy over the communication was
  • compatibility with the employer’s purpose/ reputation or employee’s role
  • any other criticisms of the employer, their employees, suppliers or customers
  • the employer’s disciplinary rules and policies over social media

When the question was posed to over 40 HR professionals based in the Manchester area who attended Taylors’ HR Exchange launch event, we found that none thought that social media use should be banned completely, or that employees should have completely unrestricted access. All delegates agreed that social media should have ‘controlled use’ in the workplace meaning there was a clear need and business case for effective Social Media policies.

In response Will Clayton highlighted that according to ACAS “All employers should have a [written] policy on internet/ social media use…[which]…must set out clearly and explicitly the organisation’s expectations of and definitions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and the consequences of violation. This should be consistent with the disciplinary procedures and cross-refer to them…”

Other ACAS recommendations on the subject include:

  • Online conduct should not differ from off-line conduct…
  • The policy should be drawn up in consultation with staff/ representatives
  • Policy on internet use also needs to be communicated
  • Review policies on internet use/ social media on a regular basis

Will Clayton also noted the following questions when putting together your policy:

  • What kind of usage is allowed for business?
  • What kind of private use is not permissible?
  • How will/ may the employer monitor employee’s use of social media platforms?
  • Are the consequences of breaches clearly communicated?

Social media is blurring the lines between people’s professional and private life. This brings a set of HR issues that range from productivity problems to bringing an organisation into disrepute.

Conversely, it also brings opportunities - especially in the area of employee engagement, which can have a positive affect on a company’s bottom line.
The main message to take away from all of this is to make sure a social media policy is in place and is clearly communicated to all staff.

Taylors Solicitors have partnered with Cy4or Forensics to produce a social media policy. Members of The HR Exchange can get the policy at a reduced rate. Please contact Will Clayton for more information on 0161 200 5695 or via email: will.clayton@taylors.co.uk.

Copyright 2006 - 2012 Taylors Solicitors

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