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Speaking Out: Social Media in the Workplace

Speaking Out: Social Media in the Workplace

With the exceptional growth of social networking, should employers embrace the expanding business opportunities or edge on the side of caution, where risks of computer viruses and lost productivity are apparent?

When using the internet, visiting a social media site is often the principal part of the daily online routine, where millions of users around the world now regularly update their profiles with new comments, blogs and photographs. Planning events, sending messages and keeping up-to-date with peers’ affairs has never been so straight forward, and with thriving technologies such as smart phones, access has never been easier.

The availability of the internet to employees in the workplace has long been a sensitive issue, and adding social media to the mix only furthers the complications facing employers. One of the primary concerns to managers is often considered to be the loss of productivity generated from ‘time wasted’ on various social websites. Add to this, the risks of harmful viruses and malware that could be contracted from various third party applications then you have one potential headache for employers. Furthermore, some members of staff have found themselves in hot water after making remarks about fellow employees and customers on networking sites, even damaging a company’s reputation.

Back in late 2008, The Independent reported that 13 flight attendants had been fired after demeaning the airline, Virgin Atlantic. According to the newspaper, they criticised the airline’s safety standards in a discussion online, whilst also branding their passengers as ‘Chavs’. The BBC has also reported on a teenager who was sacked from her job after referring to it as ‘boring’ in a Facebook status update, resulting in a senior member of the company commenting that “her display of disrespect and dissatisfaction undermined the relationship and made it untenable.”

However it isn’t all bad, many organisations have been successfully exploiting the potential of social media, where they are able to inexpensively market products, directly targeting certain groups if desired. Businesses may add customers as ‘friends’, offering a more personal touch through providing targeted offers and discounts. Professional networking site, Linked In, has become a useful business tool assisting communication between company and consumer, and even facilitating recruitment.

The dilemma lies in finding a balance between positively utilising social media for the benefit of the company, whilst maintaining employee morale and avoiding the pitfalls associated with misuse. Putting an outright ban on all social media may well be counterproductive, whereas allowing unlimited access may even corrupt the most diligent employees.

In a world where electronic communication is a necessity and social media is at the forefront, a clear approach is vital. An understandable policy for employees, outlining a company’s approach to the use of social networks, and perhaps the internet in general, may help educate staff in making the correct decisions when online.

Please tell us your views on the use of social networks at work. Do you know or have you heard any stories resulting from misuse and what do you think is the best approach for a company to take?

Leave your comments and thoughts in the box below:

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