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Are employees being hampered by strict bosses from using the potential of social media?

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There have recently been some very public cases where social media has caused employees and employers alike to be rather humiliated. One of 2015’s highlights featured Bristol stockbroker Rayhan Qadar, who made the national news when he tweeted on his way to work that he had hit a cyclist. He added: “But I’m late for work so had to drive off lol.”

Qadarn hadn’t hit anyone, but it didn’t stop his comment from creating a twitter storm – a bad one at that – or causing the police to start an investigation. Of course, Hargreaves Lansdown, where Qadarn had been employed, swiftly fired him that day. After all, it was a matter of company policy that any misconduct on social media of this sort would result in dismissal. It highlights why employers are so keen to put strict policies in place.

Take, for example, the Game Retail vs Laws Employment Appeal Tribunal case of 2014. The employee in question made a few offensive remarks on his personal Twitter account, which was flagged up by a member of the retailer’s staff. It was ruled, however, that despite the comments having been made public, the employer had made no attempt to make them private in any way. 

And who can forget what was probably one of the most notorious social media faux pas of all time! Former PR executive Justine Sacco posted what she thought was a joke on Twitter just before hopping on a plane to Africa. I kid you not, she tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!

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However, not only was there a chaotic backlash, the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet trended worldwide as she traversed through Africa on the plane, completely ignorant of the reaction her tweet had gained.

With such scenarios waiting to happen like a ticking time bomb, who could blame employers for holding negative views towards social media? In fact, research from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Bergen found that managers hold more negative attitudes to personal use of social media at work than subordinates.

It sounds logical. But with employers increasingly starting to monitor social media use in the workplace, it is perhaps odd to find that top executives are also the ones who browse social network sites for private purposes at work the most

Postdoctoral fellow Cecilie Schou Andreassen of the university’s department of psychosocial science explained that top executives merely have longer working hours, and that work and leisure are much more integrated than it is for employees – she also noted that managers are also more likely to be worried about reductions in output and financial loss as a result of use of private social media.

However, there’s a delicate balance when it comes to restricting employees’ use of social media – it’s a proven avenue for customer engagement and is a fast way to build a brand and reputation around your people.

In the UK, barriers have prevented businesses benefitting from professionals’ use of social media at work. Many workers share concerns over how hard it is to find good content, the time required to sift through spam, and have repeatedly reported worries about how their employers view any content they put online.

It has perhaps come to the point that employers are so strict for fear of reputation-breaking events that they leave little opportunity for employees proficient in social media to work their magic.

This was further highlighted by a recent Scredible study, which found that around a quarter of Brits think there is too much spam on social media, leaving them with fewer options regarding online content. Furthermore, workers are worried about how such content will affect how businesses and potential clients perceive them.

Some 29 per cent do not have time to post during the working day, while 19 per cent are worried about what their employers might think of their social media profiles, including how what they share might be judged.

A study by LinkedIn also claimed that workers were concerned about the impressions they create with online profiles and postings, even if social media practices do sometimes seem obviously risky. The study also confirmed that social media users are quick to make assumptions about others based on very superficial information.

“As social media rapidly moves into the number one slot, both as a marketing and support tool, this is a disaster in the making in terms of global competitiveness,” said Colin Lucas-Mudd, CEO of Scredible. “Furthermore, as it becomes increasingly important for professionals to fully understand ‘social’ as a learning and development tool, educational opportunities are being lost and career prospects dimmed.” 

Essentially, the UK stands out as a world leader in the creative arts, as well as the knowledge and digital economies. However, the negative perceptions of social media demonstrated by this survey will ultimately put this position at risk.

Although it’s been highlighted that policies are needed to make sure employees don’t go over the line, employers may be limiting the ways in which social media can be used by being to tough and holding too negative a view.

The survey also compared UK and US professionals, the latter of whom are more favourable towards using social media in a business environment. Some 54 per cent of Americans recognise that social media will be important for their careers in five years’ time, compared with only 39 per cent of Brits.

According to Lucas-Mudd, the UK is renowned globally for its creative, digital industries; but history demonstrates that Britain often fails to exploit the enormous commercial, development, and educational opportunities presented by a more connected world.

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