The craze for social networking sites is showing no sign of waning. Millions of people are using sit...
The craze for social networking sites is showing no sign of waning. Millions of people are using sites such as Facebook, Bebo, LinkedIn and MySpace to arrange their social lives online, join discussion groups, have a gossip with old friends and even make business contacts. Facebook is said to have gained 3.5 million users in the UK since October last year and has over 30 million users worldwide. The big question for employers is whether they should welcome this new culture or crack down on its use within the workplace.
The most obvious concern for employers will be productivity. Employees using these sites may be accessing them during working hours and this could waste valuable working time. Many employers have taken the decision to ban the use of social networking sites at work. This may well be the right decision in the majority of cases, however, if regulated properly, personal access to the internet during lunch breaks and after hours may be a valuable benefit for staff and can assist with developing IT skills. Indeed, in some fields of work the use of networking sites is becoming an integral part of business.
Employers need to be aware of the potential HR problems which social networking poses and adopt a policy which addresses these issues:
• Rules on internet use during business hours should be clearly defined within an internet use policy;
• If you intend to monitor internet usage you should ensure that you have complied with the relevant data protection regulations;
• Carefully consider whether you encourage employees to use sites such as LinkedIn to network. The decision will very much depend on your type of business. In some fields networking online will have a number of benefits. In other fields the risks posed by allowing employee access may outweigh any benefit;
• Be wary of using social networking sites as part of your recruitment process. It has become common practice for some companies to check someone's 'netrep' (internet reputation) before they interview candidates. Employers should be aware that this is a risky course of action which could potentially give rise to a discrimination claim in certain circumstances.
• In addition, consider the implications of employees accepting 'friend requests' from fellow employees. For example, a manager may access their subordinate's Facebook page and discover that they have extreme political views. It will be difficult for an employer to regulate behaviour among employees which occurs online. Employees may also discuss your business online which could present confidentiality problems and could also affect the company's image.
Employers need to address the social networking phenomenon with care as it is in many ways a double-edged sword. A number of large multinational companies are embracing this new way of business, making use of discussion boards and even opening branches in the virtual world of Second Life. Businesses need to turn their mind to this networking revolution and be prepared for the future.
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