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Will social media in the workplace make employers :) or :( ?

27 February 2013

Pádraig Walsh, Alex Wong

Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. We know them all at home. Now, they are in the workplace. These new technologies bring many benefits - brand recognition, increased customer engagement, and faster communication to name a few. There are risks though, particularly when looking through a HR lens:

Corporate Branding: The language of Facebook and Twitter is casual. Your employees may make offhand and derogatory comments about the company, their colleagues or customers. These comments pose a greater risk than those made face-to-face as they are public, permanent… and searchable! One recent incident involved the automobile manufacturer Chrysler. An employee working at Chrysler’s social media agency accidentally tweeted a comment using Chrysler’s official tweeter account, saying "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the "motor city" and yet no one here knows how to [expletive] drive." The agency lost the Chrysler account.

Productivity: Look at the desk of each employee under the age of 35, and you will see not one, but many mobile devices switched on and within easy reach.  Social media is addictive.  Constant connection is seen by some employees as a right, even a basic need.  This is probably one of the biggest hidden costs of the modern workplace.  It is not only the lost time online, but also the increased risk of error that comes from switching tasks constantly. A Salary.com survey showed that 64% of employees visit non-work related websites daily and, among them, 24% of the employees spent 5 hours or more per week on social media sites such as Facebook.

Confidentiality: Employees have access to company confidential information. Such information can now be easily distributed to the public by posting it on a social media site. This happened to the energy company BG Group plc.  A HR professional posted the company’s attrition rate on his LinkedIn account.

Customer-facing employees often set up social media accounts to re-inforce customer relationships. Who owns these accounts?  This is important when the employment ends. In the US, the technology media website PhoneDog.com, filed a lawsuit against a former employee for "taking" the company’s Twitter account and its 17,000 followers.
 
Recruitment: Many employers use social media sites such as Linkedin for recruitment. Information is pushed to you by LinkedIn; you don’t have to ask for information – it is there for all to see. This can cause problems with equality rules if LinkedIn becomes a key part of the recruitment process.  There is also the risk of poor or wrong information.

Supervision: Employers can be held responsible for their employee’s misuse of social media sites. In the UK, the mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse was held responsible for an employee’s unauthorised defamatory statement made on a manager’s Facebook page. The employee posted the statement while he was in the office and during work hours.

You need to be aware of the risks new technologies bring. Companies can mitigate these risks. This will be discussed in the second part of this article appearing in our next issue. 

This article is part of the Asia Employment newsletter for March 2013.

Part two>>

Authors

Walsh-Pádraig

Pádraig Walsh

Partner
China and Hong Kong

Call me on: +852 2248 6000