Social Networking and Human Resource Management

Associate Professor Peter Holland

Associate Professor Peter Holland

By Associate Professor Peter Holland

The phenomenon of social networking, incorporating Facebook and Myspace, as well as the more professionally-focused sites such as LinkedIn, has become a major aspect of e-communication inside and outside the workplace in recent years.

The potential consequences of these new information and communication technologies (ICT) tools are becoming manifest in a wide range of workplace issues.

From a productivity perspective, the excessive use of social media platforms can have a negative effect as employees, drawn to the immediacy of communication on these sites, become diverted from their normal day-to-day work activities.

In addition, the reputations of organisations can be damaged where employees make inappropriate comments about their employer.

Issues of privacy and security have also been raised.

Training and development advantages of the new media are also being explored as the complexity and geographical diversity of many organisations increases. Social networking sites can be used to build highly integrated knowledge networks.

However, as noted, the risk issues are also starting to be identified in organisation as the boundaries blur between the workplace and employees’ private lives.

To deal with these emerging issues, organisations’ electronic communication policies and practices need to encompass social networking. However, studies identify a lack of urgency in organisations’ decisions to revise policies.

A survey of over 800 compliance and ethics professionals in the UK private sector by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics and the Health Care Compliance Association found that over 50 per cent did not actively monitor their employees’ use of social networking. More significantly, the study found only 10 per cent of organisations surveyed had policies specifically addressing social networks.

A key issue arising from the growing popularity of social networking sites is the fact that personal and professional lives are increasingly blurred. Organisations are now considering whether they need to deal with employees’ off-duty and private social networking activities.

This is also an issue from a recruitment perspective. A survey of over 260 recruitment managers in the UK found that 45 per cent used social networking sites to undertake background checks on potential employees. A further 11 per cent were planning to. This is more than a four-fold increase in three years.

But it’s not just an issue overseas. In Australia a prison officer recently faced disciplinary action after making comments on Facebook about his employer, a corporate bank apparently sacked an employee for using the word “recession” in a Facebook profile and a teacher was disciplined over comments she made about being bullied.

What is clear is that organisational polices and guidelines need to state what accepted usage of social networking platforms is, and what safeguards need to be developed around them. For example, where social networking includes an organisation’s name, it might be appropriate to make approval mandatory. Employers should also stipulate that employees include disclaimers with their online postings.

There should be clear policies on non-business use of the company’s ISP when working from home or on a non-work computer. In these cases employees should be subject to the same regulations as if they were physically at work.

There are a wide range of potential benefits and drawbacks that can result from the use of ICT, and strategic consideration of these is paramount.

The central theme that stands out in relation to ICTs is the importance of making employees aware of the implications of the use of Web 2.0 technology and the development of an ‘open web services’ platform that facilitate online communities. 

The new information age we live in is characterised by complexity and rapid change. Developments in technology and communications will continue to have an important impact on organisations and employment relationships. Because of this, HR managers will be at the forefront of managing and understanding the impact and implications of these technologies.

HR managers must comprehend the challenges and opportunities that ICT poses for the effective operation of their organisations.

Associate Professor Peter Holland is from the Department of Management in the Faculty of Business and Economics.