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By LegalEdge News

Social media in the workplace: staying the right side of a blurred line

Social media is a vital tool for many companies but its instant and informal nature can be problematic. It can blur the line between the personal and the professional and make it difficult to know what is and is not appropriate; should you follow your intern on TikTok, message your boss on WhatsApp or like a colleague’s Instagram post? 

Staff from different age groups and cultures may have very different ideas about how to use social media and what they find acceptable. Just the use of emojis for example is a potential minefield 🙄. 

Earlier this year the director-general of the CBI was dismissed for misconduct after complaints about his behaviour in the workplace. Reportedly, this included sending non-work-related messages to staff on work platforms and viewing staff’s Instagram stories. It can be difficult to know what to do / how much to get involved in staff use (or misuse) of social media. So here are some tips for staying on the right side of an increasingly blurred line: 

  • The global response to recent events in Israel and Gaza is a very real reminder that we live in a polarised world. As our recent blog: How to manage opposing views in the workplace explored, dealing with the consequences of deeply held beliefs – whether they’re being discussed online and/or offline – and it spilling over into the work environment can be very challenging. 
  • Some employers, particularly in North America, appear to have taken a ‘zero tolerance’ approach by firing staff who have made political comments about Israel/Gaza on social media. In the UK, each case needs to be individually considered to determine what, if any, disciplinary action is appropriate. Although not without controversy,  the BBC has recently published revised guidance on social media use for all its staff.  
  • Make sure you set out some boundaries for your people in your handbook/ policies/ guidelines and that these are communicated effectively to everyone – you can’t discipline someone for breaking rules they weren’t aware of. 
  • Those boundaries may be different depending upon the sector you are in and the size of your organisation. Financial services firms (for example) are likely to have quite formal requirements, while smaller tech companies may have a more relaxed attitude.  
  • Social media can be great for staff cohesion and productivity, so don’t make it too difficult for people to participate, but help them to get it right. Jeyda Heselton, co-founder and chief executive of the bike repair start-up, Fettle says:

In a start-up, there are so few of you, you feel like you all need to understand each otherFollowing each other on social media could be part of that.”

  • While many will already have social media guidelines, they may not be comprehensive enough to deal with communication between staff. Ideally guidelines would cover scenarios both in and outside of work. And the rise of working from home means that businesses can’t ignore what happens outside of the physical workplace.
  • If it isn’t acceptable offline then it isn’t acceptable online but, social media guidelines still need to spell this out, particularly in relation to what could amount to discriminatory behaviour, or harassment.    
  • Training staff on social media etiquette is always a good investment. While a lot of it might seem obvious for example, if you’re not sure if it’s ok, don’t do it, what’s instinctive to some might not be to others. Getting everyone on the same page can avoid misunderstandings, disputes and ultimately protect against legal claims.
  • While social media can help individuals develop their personal brand, sharing (oversharing?) can have a negative impact. So think about what should be kept private and separate from work. One idea is to use LinkedIn for work and other social media for personal use, so you can draw some sort of line – think about whether you really want your boss to see what you have been up to on a Saturday night.   
  • Getting overfamiliar on social media can upset power dynamics. Organisations are hierarchical and it may be more difficult for managers to manage staff and make tough decisions if they have overshared or got too familiar with staff online.
  • If your business is using social media to communicate with the workforce, make sure it is inclusive. While some staff on leave may not want to continue to receive messages make sure you are aware of their preferences, don’t just automatically remove them from communication channels. See a recent case where a facilities management firm had to pay compensation after excluding a worker from a WhatsApp group whilst on sick leave.

How can we help?

We regularly draft and update social media guidelines and deliver training to ensure they are properly understood by staff. Our bespoke training looks at what is and is not acceptable behaviour, gives examples of how things can go wrong, and looks at why this matters. 

Please get in touch if you would like help.

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