Monday, 17 August 2009

Rules of Engagement

It may come as a surprise to us all, but HR people have friends. I can even confess that I have several friends who are openly 'HR' and I respect them for it.

We may titter a moment at the idea of friendless HR people but there is a serious point here. With the rise of Social Networking Media and all its wide choice of communication that it offers to us and our friends, there is also the aspect that it is public. Very public.

I remember a story of a person who attended the European Championships in Germany and waved excitedly at the camera when they realised they were on the big screen. They had forgotten that their boss also liked football and was watching back home and the person had not booked holiday but had done a bunk pretending to be sick. It resulted in instant dismissal.

There have been cases of individuals losing their jobs because of You Tube videos of them drunk while holiday or a tour. We may feel very strongly what we do in our spare time is own business but when we risk having such unsavoury antics posted publicly then we are exposing ourselves to the criticism and much more of others. It is very difficult to stop these days as often these clips can be posted without your permission. That may not help when your boss, tutor or best customer sees it.

The fact is that Facebook and all the multifarious derivatives are very open to public view. I even know of a case of where a young PA was so obsessed with using Facebook through the day, one of her bosses had even requested to be her friend, an invitation she accepted, and he promptly sent her a message to get him a cup of tea while sitting no more than two desks away. The point being that the boss felt it was becoming the only way to communicate with her while she was cheesed off she got found out that she was browsing Facebook all day in company time.

At one place I worked a few years ago, there was a high percentage of staff who were relatively young (can I say that anymore?) who were desk based in a large open office. Over 75% had Facebook as their home page and they communicated to each other all day via the messages when they actually sat at the furthest points no more than 20 metres apart. Facebook and the likes can be very counterproductive in the modern office and that's a real problem for employers.

For the employee, it also exposes what they are doing. Messages are timed and public as are the photos. It can be all too easy to be monitored and this can pose serious problems. The adage of 'What goes on on tour, goes on You Tube' is becoming a new mantra and it is getting a little more serious. As we relish the thought of knowing MP Expenses details, would it not be nice to know how much time our paid employees are spending on social network sites during the hours of work?

There are many instances of people who have posted disparaging remarks about their bosses or companies on the web and getting disciplined at minimum while others simply get fired. We all get frustrated and bored in our jobs, we may even dislike the company and individuals such as our boss or a colleague. We may even choose to tell our friends and family, but you wouldn't necessarily take out a TV advertisement with your name on it and let the world know, would you? That's what social networking can be. It's an uncontrolled medium that is public in many places and so it can be monitored far more easily than we like and our bosses and even HR people can have accounts too.

Imagine 'slagging off' a colleague on a social networking site and then that employee raises a grievance that they are being bullied at work - would your comments be evidence of such bullying? Indeed they would.

It is as well to have your own 'Rules of Engagement' on social networking - if you use it extensively, have your own guidelines for when you communicate, how you communicate, what you want others to say to you and what you don't want shown. It makes just a little sense to think this all through beforehand rather than discover a 'mate' has posted a picture of you drunk in gutter when you were meant to be at home ill.

It's as well to be very wary of this. There is a fine line for companies to pry too much into what employees are doing in or out of work hours than can be construed as breaching our privacy. But when we are silly enough to make it all very public, well that's just asking for trouble.

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