Lesson Three: Strategies for Managing New Forms of Old-School Misconduct
Social media has altered everything about the way we work, interact, and stay connected. Just think back 10, even 5 years ago. Things were different—really different.
Today, more than 75% of all employees have at least one social media account, according to a survey recently released by the Ethics Resource Center called National Business Ethics Survey of Social Networkers: New Risks and Opportunities at Work.
And that means it’s not just the youngest generation that is using social media. In fact, 72% of all social networkers are over the age of 30. Below are employee social network usage rates by age group:
- 81% of employees age 30-44
- 85% of employees age 18-29
- 67% of employees 45-63
In light of these statistics, it’s not surprising that employers are wrestling with employee issues that seem to be a product of this information age revolution. It’s also not surprising that when it comes to conduct employees continue to push the boundaries of what is appropriate and what is not.
What is the Scope of the Problem?
Social networking is here to stay. And the reality is that for many employers, managing social media risk is a bigger problem than anticipated. According to the ERC survey:
- 72% of social networkers spend time each workday on social networking sites.
- 28% of social networkers spend more than 1 hour per day on networks.
- Most of the time employees spend on social networks is for personal reasons.
What Does Social Media Misconduct Look Like Today?
We don’t know how often and what percent of employees are engaging in online misconduct, but we do know that employees are spotting many different forms of online misconduct. Below is an excerpt from the appendix of the NBES Survey of Social Networkers detailing the observation rates of various types of social networking misconduct:
If you can imagine it, your employees have probably done it, said it, or messed with it online. And a quick search of the internet and popular networking sites will reveal a whole host of misconduct that you may not have even contemplated. Examples include:
- The manager who harassed an employee after learning that the employee had “liked” a social networking group called Two Dads.
- The manager who accidentally sent out a picture of himself naked (waist down) to about 20 employees. He was quickly terminated.
- The manager who accessed confidential customer data, and then sexted a customer. He too was fired of course.
- The barista who was fired after blogging about difficult customers.
- The group of Australian miners who were fired after they posted a video of them doing the Harlem Shake.
- The many and varied employees who mistreat and abuse products like food or packages, and then post the videos online.
- Or the politician, who just can’t stop sending raunchy photos and text messages, even though it’s devastating his public image, reputation and campaign
Managing the New Reality
The challenges presented by social media are not entirely new; rather technology has merely provided employees and managers with a new vehicle for engaging in old school misconduct such as sexual harassment and discrimination. What has changed dramatically is the speed at which misconduct impacts others, and the scope of the harm that can occur.
Employers need to be more proactive and more vigilant than ever before if they want to mitigate risks associated with social media use. Below you will find four suggestions for managing social media risk in your organization:
- Be Informed: The law and technology are not always in sync; the law often lags far behind. Practices that may be okay today may become big risks tomorrow if you don’t stay on top of changes in the law. And because social media is a global activity, it’s often important to be informed about international laws. A short sampling of U.S. laws and regulations that employers should be aware of include:
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules and regulations
- Copyright, trademark, and intellectual property protections
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
- SEC Regulations relating to insider trading
- Anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII
- Anti-harassment laws such as Title VII
- The National Labor Relations Act
- Whistleblower laws
- The Stored Communications Act
- The Computer Fraud Abuse Act
- The Electronic Communications Privacy Act
- Be Realistic: Social media is here to stay. Employees no longer need your network or your equipment to access social networking sites while at work. They simply use their own devices. When you think about establishing and enforcing rules, be realistic about what is allowed, and enforceable.
- Be Prepared: Start with a really solid social media policy that reflects your organization’s culture, and is properly communicated (via training) and enforced. An effective policy and training will actually help curb misconduct—as confirmed by the ERC survey noted above. For some tips on how to develop a policy, check out the NAVEX Global Social Media Toolkit. In addition, develop a social media crisis response plan—so when you have to deal with something big, you can respond properly and quickly.
- Be Trusting: Most people are well intentioned—they actually want to protect and improve their organizations. Employers need to let go a bit, and trust that the social networking community (which includes their employees) will impose some guardrails and help keep people in check, just like coworkers do in a more traditional workplace. If you want to seize the opportunities presented by social media, train employees about how to use it properly and productively to help your organization.
Harassment and discrimination remain pressing risks – not because policies and training are ineffective in addressing these issues, but rather because many employers fail to adopt policies and adequately implement or communicate training.
So if you are thinking, “good we already have a policy” – you should carefully evaluate how effective it is. An enormous gap may be undermining your efforts.
- Only 43% of employees think their organizations have a social media policy
- While 73% of employers say they have a social policy in place.
This 30-point gap suggests a big problem. And the problem is that a policy really isn’t much good if it’s not communicated to employees in a way that is memorable.
One thing is certain. Employees will make mistakes online. In some cases they will simply embarrass themselves, but some may cause damage to your reputation. The key is to not sit back and do nothing. Establishing clear policies and educating employees are proven methods for increasing sensitivity and awareness, curbing behavior, and ultimately reducing the likelihood of misconduct.