The Conundrum that is Social Media

This blog post was original posted on Canadian HR Reporter by Harpaul Sambhi, CEO of Careerify

Ten months ago I attended a potential client meeting. The senior vice-president of human resources, whom I had just met, wished me a happy belated birthday and told me my blog on goal-oriented rewards was very interesting. A simple Google search of my name had led her to my Facebook page and my blog, giving her insight to both my personal and professional lives.

Social media is blurring the line between the professional and personal for many people and it can either help or hinder an individual’s career. In my case, while my Facebook page and blog posts revealed some personal information, there was no offensive or inappropriate content that could turn a potential client against me. How do individuals and organizations draw the line between the professional and personal worlds on the Internet? How do we decide what content is appropriate for which audience and control who has access to it?

While there are privacy controls on social media websites that give users some control over who can see the content they post, the reality is there is no guarantee of privacy on the Internet. An individual’s off-hand comment on a news article, review of a restaurant or a photo uploaded by someone else can all easily be found online and connected back to the individual’s employer. Depending on the content, and the individual’s position in the organization, it could harm the employer’s reputation.

Fewer North Americans are happy in their jobs compared to 20 years ago, with a Conference Board survey of 5,000 households showing 45 per cent of respondents were satisfied with their jobs in 2009 compared to 61.1 per cent in 1987. Workers under 25 and those over the age of 65 experienced the biggest drop in satisfaction. With more employees dissatisfied with their jobs, it’s not surprising people would complain about their work to friends and family. The introduction of social media has provided another means of communication, like the telephones and email. But when does harmless complaining go too far?

If social networks are simply another medium to communicate your thoughts to a personal network, do organizations have the right to access this personal information and use it against them? While some cases that involve derogatory remarks, including to a peers race, sexual orientation and gender definitely warrant some kind of disciplinary action, what about the employee who vents “I’m hating my job!! Someone save me!” on Twitter?

One argument, often put forward by avid social media users, is social networks like Facebook are personal and an employer has no right to use what an employee does in her personal life as a reason to dismiss her. The counter argument, often put forward by executives, is social networks are in the public domain and each and every employee should be an ambassador of the organization at all times. These two paths seem to intersect at the crossroads leaving HR and many other executives confused about this conundrum. As in most things, the issue isn’t black and white. Do you shun your organization from the utilization of social media, preventing sales opportunities and collaboration between employees, suppliers and customers to occur or run the risk seeing what you don’t want to see?

What are your thoughts on this issue? Does your workplace view this differently?

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