Working for an HR Software provider I attend my fair share of HR events. A topic that has been trending in the conferences and seminars for a few years is the opportunity and challenge that social media presents the industry.
Essentially the debate goes like this… Social media enables people to communicate quickly and easily with one another and has the potential to aid collaboration among our employees. Yay, we like that, surely social media is a force for good. But wait, didn’t I just say that social media enables people to communicate quickly and easily with one another? This means slurs against your organisation have the potential to go viral, potentially reaching millions of people around the world in minutes. Boo, hiss, social media is dangerous. Cue calls for companies to simultaneously embrace social media while maintaining a level of control that would make Orwellian Thought Police blush with pride.
My own belief is that the control argument is futile. Human beings have thrived because of our ability and innate desire to communicate with one another. Urban legends and scare stories (think “Kentucky Fried Rat” or “Cling Film Causes Cancer”) used to go viral long before the internet; it just took longer and was harder to implicate someone for taking part.
Social media, by its very nature, is an open form of communication. Even if I send what I think is a private message, doesn’t mean that the recipient will keep it private. It’s the combination of the openness of social media with the ability to prove somebody has posted something online that poses a risk for employees. Employees need to be aware of how they conduct themselves online, as people can and have been sacked for what they’ve posted.
There are numerous examples of people who’ve found themselves looking for a new job following a misjudged Facebook post or Twitter rant. Typically they fall into 10 categories, some examples are below:
1. Breaching Privacy Laws: In California, five nurses are facing the sack after it was found they were discussing patient cases on Facebook.
2. Insulting Your Boss: A famous Facebook fail in 2009 involved a woman, known only as Lindsay, who posted a less than flattering post about her boss, forgetting that she’d accepted him as a friend on the social network. When her boss stumbled across the post, her six-month trial period ended pretty swiftly.
3. Insulting Your Colleagues: A call centre worker was fired after posting a comment on Facebook calling one of her colleagues a “brown nosing cow”. She was dismissed for breaching the company’s Internet policy that “staff should not post comments that could be regarded as bullying, harassment or discrimination.”
4. Insulting Your Customers: A waitress was fired from her job at a pizza restaurant for branding two of their customers “Cheap” on Facebook. While she didn’t give the names of the restaurant goers, she did mention the company name. She was fired for “violating the company’s social media policy.”
5. Disparaging Remarks About Your Company: 13 Virgin Airline crew members were dismissed after publicly discussing aspects of their job on Facebook, including the number of times an airplane’s engines had been replaced and that their cabin was currently infested with bugs. Oh. They also called their passengers “Chavs” for good measure. (See point 4. Insulting Your Customers.)
6. Causing Offence: Liberal Democrat MP Colin Eldridge got rid of his online campaign organiser after posting a comment asking “all religious people to just *&@^ off.” In case there were any atheists in the constituency he’d managed to not offend, he also posted a link to an article saying certain people should be “banned from breeding,” including “vile women with too many kids.”
7. Sharing Corporate IP: Nicole Crowther had been a recurring extra in the hit TV show Glee when she decided to tweet future storylines to her followers. Her message “K is PQ and Ka is PK” was easily deciphered by her fans as a spoiler for who would be prom King and Queen. When the show’s creator, Brad Falchuck, got wind of this he simply replied to her tweet with “@nicolecrowther, Hope you’re qualified to do something other than work in entertainment.” Needless to say Nicole was a recurring extra no more.
8. Busted Pulling a Sickie: An employee from insurance firm National Suisse who called into work claiming to be suffering from a migraine needed to lie in a darkened room rather than look at her computer screen. When her employer found her posting comments on Facebook, it became clear her apparent migraine was just a ploy for an extra day off. She no longer works for the firm.
9. Amount Time Spent Online While At Work: Dozens of council staff have been disciplined in the north of England for inappropriate use of the Internet, with at least one member of staff being fired for “excessive use of Facebook”. A recent freedom of information request found that Facebook was accessed by Stockton Council computers over 7 million times in 2011.
10. Proof You Behave Like an Idiot: Staff from Great Western Hospital in Swindon were fired after playing the “Lying Down on the Job” game. They were discovered after posting photos of themselves lying down on hospital floors, the helipad, and even resuscitation tables. Not smart.
Would you want your hospital to employ staff who discussed your medical records on Facebook? Thought not. Would you phone your boss, call him a “pervy w&^*#^” and expect to keep your job? I doubt it. What would you do if you owned a restaurant and one of your waitresses purposefully insulted your customers to their face?
The underlying theme for all of the above dismissals is that the protagonists behaved unprofessionally. If used in a professional way, social media is no more a threat to a person’s employment than email, the phone, or good old word of mouth.
Guest author David Richter is the Marketing Manager for Octopus HR, a company that provides online HR Software for SMEs in the UK.