We are often advised by business gurus that the benefits of employee communication using social media out way the disadvantages. Set up a closed or secret Facebook group they say, use WhatsApp for chat is the cry. They try and convince us that the staff will feel connected, that employee communication will be enhanced, and that a more friendly workplace will result.
I and other HR Consultants are not so sure. In fact we are seeing an increasing number of HR issues caused by the existence of official and unofficial social media groups.
‘Behaviour breeds behaviour’ and where staff are misusing the communication tool it can led to a new subculture to exist where staff talk about
These issues include:
- Staff not being asked to join a group and feeling left out and alienated.
- Staff feeling messages intrude on family and personal time outside of working day.
- Staff who do not want to join a group feeling discriminated against for their refusal.
- Staff reading posts about others they did not want to read.
- Social events being organised and certain people excluded. Leads to allegations of bullying or unkindness at work.
- Staff being disturbed by what they have read and worrying about the posters wellbeing.
- Staff reading messages when the setting is closed and having no one to raise it with.
- Staff being upset about what is being said about them, or what they ‘believe’ is being said about them.
- Bullying and sexual harassment on line.
- Breaches in confidentiality online, images being uploaded to social media groups without the permission of those in the image.
- Staff sharing information that shouldn’t be shared online. “I’m pregnant” to “I feel like taking my own life”.
- Staff attacking management.
- Managers saying that they can’t switch off and feel they must read everything as soon as it is posted.
- Management are losing control as where groups exist that they aren’t they don’t have the ‘admin’ of what’s being said.
- Staff criticising ex colleagues and parents.
- Over communication information overload.
- Staff who aren’t part of the group expecting Managers to pass on everything they are missing by not being in the group.
It would be a breach of data rules for an employer to assume that their new staff member is happy for their mobile phone number to be added to the group. When it appears in the What’s App thread the number will appear too. The employer would need expressed consent as they can’t rely on legitimate business interests.
Tweeting you way to a P45
Employers of all sizes need to have a social media policy that says what will happen if an employee breaches the policy. Where evidence exists of harassment and bullying employees have been fairly dismissed for their actions. But with closed groups its harder to police. We can all read a friends Facebook post on their timeline, we can see a public tweet but what can we see in a WhatApp group we are not members of? Perhaps its a Closed or Secret Facebook Group. In fact with Secret Facebook Groups we wouldn’t be able to find that it exists. With Snapchat the posts are gone in 24 hours, so there’s nothing to print and show.
We know that what does occur is that posts in Closed and Secret Groups are ‘screenshotted’ and pasted as evidence to others outside of the group. Its worth thinking about that for a moment. if you are reading this blog because you saw a post in a Early Years Managers Group how did you know that what you’ve just said about your Owner isn’t being screen-shotted and sent to them. It can and does happen. The impact can be devastating.
So whilst we can’t stop groups being set up, we should ensure that we are admins of the ones that appear to be authorised by the employer and you should update policies to reflect what will happen if staff members harass, discriminate, breach confidentiality, or general misuse this communication method. We recommend emphasis on face to face staff meetings and real team building sessions rather than virtual ones.