Should You Monitor Your Employees on Social Media? Many Experts Say No

The world of social media has really shifted talent management in so many ways, and just one of the many considerations that come with the prolific use of sites and apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat is whether or not employers can and should monitor their employees’ use of social media.

Last fall the Wall Street Journal featured an article with some professional perspectives about whether or not an employee should be monitored on social media, which is particularly important as the number of workers fired as a result of social media posts is on the rise.

monitoring employees social media

Some employees are fired because of very obviously unacceptable remarks, whether they’re racist or culturally offensive or threatening, or because they reference their place of work or coworkers in a derogatory way. Other employees have been fired for less obvious offenses – sometimes just as little as complaining about a tough day at the office can catch the attention of employers.

As well as being something companies look at to check up on current employees, social media is also a pivotal part of the recruiting and hiring process. In fact, Time Money reports that an astounding 93% of recruiters look at the profiles of potential new hires. Even when people think they have their privacy settings guarding their profiles, it’s still possible to see those college photos taken at the bar or posts where you’ve written derogatory comments about a past employer.

Despite the negative connotations that come with looking into candidate’s social media profiles, it’s not always a bad thing. In a 2013 CareerBuilder survey, 19% of respondents said they’d found something positive on a candidate’s profile that actually made them decide to hire that individual.

Some of the biggest and most common issues employers and recruiters see on social media profiles include making fun of customers or associated stakeholders. There are many instances of employees who out themselves when they’ve called in sick and then post photos having a fun non-work day, and even posting company secrets.

These can all be problematic, but at the same time people are questioning whether or not employers should monitor their employees profiles, and whether there is something to gain from the company’s perspective.

In the Wall Street Journal piece mentioned earlier, Nancy Flynn, founder and executive director of the ePolicy Institute, argued for the monitoring of employee accounts. She said the following:

It’s all too easy for disgruntled or tone-deaf employees to go onto social media and criticize customers, harass subordinates and otherwise misbehave. Sometimes that can bring workplace tensions and complaints, sometimes it can damage a company’s reputation in the marketplace, and sometimes it can lead all the way to lawsuits or regulatory action. (And, like email, social-networking records can be subpoenaed and used as evidence.)

Flynn went on to say that while some people argue information posted on social media is harmless, that’s not the reality. A 2009 survey by the American Management Association showed 14% of employees admitted to emailing confidential company information to third parties. She also points out that hospital employees have been fired for talking about patients on Facebook, which is a violation of not only corporate hospital policies but also HIPAA regulations.

Flynn continues to argue that with strict monitoring it’s possible to spot potential issues early, remove the information and discipline employees. She even goes so far as to say employers should ask for access to all of their employees’ accounts.

Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, took the opposite perspective, saying snooping on employee social media is unnecessary. Maltby told the WSJ that while employers have the right to check up on social media, the only reason they have the duty to do so is if they believe the employee is doing something illegal.

He argues for a social media monitoring policy that only happens when there’s a reason to think it needs to be happening. He says most of the time, employee social media use has nothing to do with work, and when it involves employees’ private lives, companies should take a hands-off approach.

He points to examples when people have lost jobs because of political or religious beliefs, or even because women have posted pictures of themselves in their bathing suits.

In addition to harming employees, Maltby says deeply-rooted social media snooping can hurt businesses. He says the following:

 In a competitive economy, companies need to hire the most qualified applicants. When HR professionals reject the top candidate because they disapprove of the person’s private life, the employer loses, too.

There’s more subtle damage as well. HR professionals are already hard pressed to investigate applicants thoroughly. Often there isn’t enough time to speak with every prior employer, or to verify the applicant’s academic record. Taking time away from these crucial activities to go on Internet fishing expeditions diminishes the quality of the hiring process.

If You Are Monitoring, Consider These Tips

If your company is one that’s going to monitor employees’ use of social media, do so carefully.

  1. One thing that’s incredibly important is to let employees know your standards and expectations. Your employees may unknowingly post something that can get them in trouble on Facebook, so to avoid this have a clear social media policy in place and make sure it’s something employees not only know about but also fully understand.
  2. Let employees know that there should be a clear line between their personal and professional accounts. By mingling the two together, all parties are leaving themselves open to potential issues or concerns. This also means you shouldn’t be asking employees to promote your company on their personal accounts because this blurs the lines and creates a breeding ground for potential issues.
  3. Be cautious when using social media as a recruiting tool, because it can create problems for your organization regarding discriminatory hiring practices. For example, if something about a person’s pregnancy, age or religion is discovered via social media and it’s even possibly considered in hiring, you may be potentially breaking the law.
  4. Also, be careful when asking employees for their username or password information, because this can be unlawful as well. 15 states have laws in place that guard against employers asking employees or applicants for this information.
  5. When it comes to monitoring social media accounts, it’s about figuring out what works for your company, what’s really required and what’s lawful. It may be entirely unnecessary to do any monitoring unless you suspect a problem, although some companies prefer to be proactive.

What are your thoughts about monitoring the social media profiles and activity of your employees?

November 25, 2015   Updated :November 16, 2016   social media, social media in the workplace   

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