Reconciling Social Media with HR Objectives in the 21st Century

As employees become more attuned and vocal over social media, there is an increasing concern of employees’ breach of HR policies and conflicting interests with company directives. How should 21st century companies and HR managers reconcile employees’ social media usage with their HR objectives?

“I hate my job” or “My boss is making life tough for me” – these are the red flags that are sure to get every HR manager fired up for an intense counselling session with the ‘culprits’ behind the hateful Facebook or Twitter post. The worry is valid though. Social media, a global phenomenon believed to have gain traction in the 1990s – a relatively short history by that – saw growth figures that swelled and multiplied at an exponential rate as more and more users hopped onto the bandwagon, be it for social, networking or marketing purposes.

In 2014, AdWeek published an infographic article put together by digital research company, Digital Insights with staggering figures pertaining to the global population’s use of social media. It was reported that as of March 2014, the amount of Facebook active users on the social media platform was standing at 1.28 billion and growing. Meanwhile, micro blogging social media platform, Twitter registers 255 million active users and an approximate 500 million ‘tweets’ ‘tweeted’ every day. That is a lot of conversations and opinions flying around in cyberspace even while you are reading this article.

Closer to home, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant director, Ms Amy Cheong caused a social media firestorm when she posted offensive comments on her personal Facebook account which also sparked a witch hunt for the company that hired the accused back in 2012. NTUC subsequently fired the assistant director much to the celebration of Singaporeans island-wide. And who could forget the infamous Anton Casey?

As professional and private lives becomes more intertwined than ever before with the advance of social media, it has become almost inevitable that an individual’s conduct on the social media is directly or indirectly linked to their company’s values, and reputation thereafter. While there are sufficient reasons to monitor the conduct of employees on the social media landscape as critically as their physical conduct in the office itself, how should HR managers manage this delicate issue which can also be viewed as an intrusion into employees’ personal life?

A ‘safe zone’ for sharing should be institutionalized such that employees can share their concerns without the fear of being reprimanded, including addressing tough questions like company intrusion into personal life.

Many companies adopt the ‘whip’ method, ‘upgrading’ their social media policies to cover more ground, punishing or even sacking employees for every wrong comment. But while it can be effective in keeping the employees in check, fear brings with it a very damning atmosphere into an office space; lowering staff morale and productivity all at the same time. Instead, companies and HR managers need to be ‘on the ground’ to address the concerns of employees. A ‘safe zone’ for sharing should be institutionalized such that employees can share their concerns without the fear of being reprimanded, including addressing tough questions like company intrusion into personal life.

Rather than going by the You-work-for-the-company-therefore-you-listen-to-me method, HR managers need to build the trust and empathy with their employees so that they understand that they are valued and their opinions –both good and bad – have a huge impacton the company’s reputation. That way, employees understand and will most likely take their grievances offline to a much safer platform where repercussions are minimal and much easier to manage. Also, instead of upsizing their social media policies, HR managers need to get started immediately on equipping their employees to become brand ambassadors to build the company reputation and attract potential talents. That can be accomplished by educating and guiding them on publishing brand-safe content. This also allows HR managers to engage in minimal employee monitoring; trusting and empowering employees to post Facebook updates or Twitter tweets that are not negative or damaging to company reputation.

People are still after all, every company’s greatest asset and HR managers must understand, empathize and leverage on every employee to become effective brand ambassadors on behalf of the company in the social media landscape.

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