Bosses told: Don't snoop or snap online

Employers have been warned about snooping on candidates via social networks, or reacting too hard to online criticism. But surely the employees don't get to have all the fun?

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 01 Sep 2011

Conciliation service Acas has just published a do’s and don’ts guide for employers using social media, in which it urges them not to be ‘heavy-handed’ with staff who’ve let slip with an unprofessional gaff on sites like Facebook. That's fair enough: you don’t have to manage a load of Premier League footballers to realise just how potentially damaging a few misguided online characters can be. 

But it’s not just their knee-jerk reactions that bosses have to watch: Acas has also warned employers about the risks of Googling potential employees and using any personal information from Twitter feeds or social network profiles to influence recruitment decisions. Job candidates, it says, could accuse them of discrimination.

Ah, what a mine-field all this is. With 55% of staff now accessing social networks every day at work, either via their computer or smartphone, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for bosses to know how to react. Especially when someone manages to conjure a figure for it: a study from jobsite myjobgroup calculated that social media activity in the workplace costs the UK economy £14bn in lost productivity last year. We’re not quite sure how they worked it out, but it doesn’t sound too pretty.

The problem for bosses is that the rise of social media is creating new norms of its own. Many of them are hard to argue with: Twitter's role in creating a more direct form of customer feedback that can insantly reach millions has been a real phenomenon, yet it's far worse for the company that has something to hide than the one that doesn’t. And it’s true, any corporate entity will struggle to react to people slagging them off without coming across like the bad guy. Careful and considered is definitely the way to go.

Yet surely you can’t have it both ways. If a company isn’t allowed to react when someone publicly slates them, because the norms have moved with the technology, then can you really blame them for harnessing information that candidates have made readily available, to help them decide who to employ? Surely that’s just a case of moving with the times too? While snooping is clearly a worrying invasion of personal privacy, isn’t it up to the candidate to ensure that the net’s not replete with photos of them copping off with their old boss, or nakedly scaling a statue to place a traffic cone on its head?

As with most things, a bit of common sense is advisable. As is trust. Social media’s a reality, and it can do loads of good. If you set up the kind of environment where people have no reason to go posting snide comments about how you operate, chances are you'll be fine. And if you've got it right, even if they do say anything, then you may well find your ample supporters publicly leaping to your defence. Clever, isn't it...

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