Social Networking and Work
Millions of people now practice social networking . In fact just about everyone I know has a profile on one or more sites like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter.
Some networkers are more aggressive and dedicated than others and spend hours each week updating profiles and announcing to the world everything from their last meal to their emotional state. They also comment on the activities of others, offering advice or social commentary. Networks of "friends" constantly grow to include family, friends and acquaintances - old, new and newly rediscovered.
Many businesses have figured out how to taken advantage of the ever-expanding social networking web to attract specially targeted "fans" who visit their sites rich with information or marketing material.
Social networking sites produce a unique challenge for employers; challenges that go way beyond employees' First Amendment rights of free expression -away from the workplace. For one thing, accessing social networking sites from work poses very real business concerns
- Reduced bandwidth to and from the company's servers
- Security challenges such as phising and access to confidential information about patients or employees; or theft of proprietary information and intellectual property
- Decreased productivity as employees network on company time
Some organizations now block social networking sites from being accessed, even by those employees who have otherwise free access to the Internet at work. The argument that cell phones might interfere with critical medical equipment has gone back and forth for years. Now the use of cell phones at work is being revisited again by organizations, but, this time, for the added reason that an increasing number of employees now use cell phones to tweet and visit websites while at work.
Another consideration is that of the employee's social networking profile. Whatever an employee writes might reflect on their employer, especially if they explicitly state where they work. Engaging in political, religious or risqué discourse might be "politically incorrect" or even adversely affect an employee's evaluation at work. What about supervisors fraternizing with subordinates - using the excuse" after all we are not at work". Can you truly separate personal and professional? Crossing the line could be awkward at best. Blending both worlds could have dire consequences.
Employees have been known to use their profiles to comment on work events or office politics. It is easy to inadvertently describe details at work that violate patient confidentiality or otherwise open the organization to legal risk. Is it OK to badmouth a boss or colleague if names are disguised?
Increasingly organizations are developing (and training employees) on social networking policies. Such policies must address the delicate balance between personal right and professional obligation. Such gray areas will only increase as the Internet continues to change how we communicate and share our lives. But that is the world we currently live in.