This article was based on episode 175 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get a free sample social media policy when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.
With social media, we can access the private lives of our employees from our fingertips. I know I’ve felt the urge to check the social media accounts of prospective employees, just to make sure there aren’t warning signs. And after working together for a while, it seems only natural to follow my colleagues and offer for them to follow me. But is it ethical, or even useful, to be checking on our team’s social media? Bianca Lager share’s her fascinating insights on the do’s (and mostly don’ts) of interacting with our colleagues’ social media lives. Along with consulting, managing, and speaking on organizational development, Bianca is President of Social Intelligence, a consumer reporting agency focused on online risk for human resources.
THE PROBLEM WITH CHECKING
As Bianca explains, there are just so many problems with keeping tabs on our employee’s social media lives. The most benign one is simply productivity. We’re busy enough as it is, why add more FaceBook scrolling into our routine? But deeper than that is the emotional toll. Checking out your employee’s social media creates a narrative in your head about them. You might inadvertently build up a bias that may not be true and is really not your judgement to make. Plus, you may learn information about them that they haven’t (yet) shared in a workplace context. This could become a violation of protected class information such as race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or parental status.
WHAT ABOUT RED FLAGS?
Sometimes we think that we will find important warning signs on our employee’s “real” beliefs and behaviors if we check out their social accounts. Bianca advises that this is not worth your time. So many hate groups use benign names such as “Women of America”, making it too confusing for a manager to quickly figure out simply by searching or scrolling through posts. With the rising divisiveness of political parties, viewing each other’s social media political posts can cause further havoc in the workplace. If the office has thus far been a neutral zone, it may not be worth bringing in this outside narrative of either how great or horrible this person is because of what we saw on their social media.
Sometimes, we may see posts from an employee out on vacation when they should be working, or running a side business that conflicts with work hours, or something even more problematic like gambling. Bianca again advises to take a step back and admit that we just don’t know the full story. Maybe the employee scheduled that post the night before to go live at that time, and was not really out at the beach or relaxing in the park at that moment.
If we do end up seeing a problematic post, Bianca advises to (1) be mindful of the biased narrative we are creating, (2) do a risk assessment of the actual threat, and (3) decide on a course of action with your HR partner.
IS YOUR EMPLOYEE USING SOCIAL MEDIA DURING THEIR WORK DAY?
Walking by a cubicle and seeing an employee on Instagram can bring up a lot of emotions. Bianca advises to take a breather and remember that again, we don’t know the full story. Maybe your employee wasn’t “avoiding work”or wasting time, but just taking a quick break. No one wants to feel policed at work so don’t engage the person right then. If the behavior continues to be concerning, opt for a feedback conversation using the same approach you’d use for any other worrisome behavior.
CREATE A POLICY OF SOCIAL MEDIA EXPECTATIONS
Creating a Social Media Policy is critical, especially if you’re managing a small organization that doesn’t have in-house HR. Outline the expected social media behavior including values, rules, legal standards, documentation procedures, and any punitive actions that will occur. Having a policy in place sets clear expectations and helps avoid uncomfortable conversations. Make sure that everyone, regardless of their roles, has the same expectations - different expectations for different people can feel discriminatory or just confusing. The more universal and consistent, the better.
WHEN ONLINE CONVOS EFFECT WORK
There is a time and place to address your employees’ social media life, and that’s when it’s coming into the workplace. Maybe a conversation that started at work continued online after-hours and got heated. Or something that one employee posted was seen by a coworker and she was deeply offended. Address this issue just like any other management conflict between colleagues. If it’s affecting their lives and ability to work together effectively, it needs to be addressed.
Social media is such a new world that we don’t have many guidelines on how to navigate it within the workplace. Even though you might have the best intentions when checking your team’s posts, resist the urge. It only brings on a slew of emotional, productive, and ethical problems. The narratives that we create of others from their social media posts are often inaccurate at best and harmful at worst. And, as we all know too well, social media is a time-eater! Create appropriate boundaries and clear social media policies so that what you deal with at work is only what your team chooses to bring to the table and share.
KEEP UP WITH BIANCA
Get a free sample social media policy when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join.
This article was based on episode 175 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.