Social media: Help and hindrance

by 15 Aug 2012

While the consultants will advise caution with social media in the workplace context, Ellen Flint presents a unique view from the HR professional's perspective.

I might be a laggard when it comes to technology, but my head isn’t in the sand - even I know social media has fundamentally changed how people communicate. Yet I still haven’t quite nailed how we in HR can make the most of it. In this day and age of a shrinking and maturing workforce with more and more niche skills, I am hoping there may be another new invention just around the corner which will help us better find and attract the top talent. For whilst LinkedIn keeps past colleagues in touch, and Facebook is a great place to organise a reunion, there’s got to be more upside than a Facebook pointer to the corporate website careers page.

Whilst not yet clear on the benefits, HR professionals have nevertheless felt some of the pain of the social media revolution. The number of disciplinary discussions have grown commensurate with the number of employees who have inappropriately shared their bad day at work with friends, acquaintances... and the rest of the world. Not content with having a whinge on the train on the way home (which is bad enough), now people can make a global rant and really make sure they’ve been heard.

The high profile derailment of Energy Watch CEO, Ben Polis after his plethora of racist, sexist caveman vitriol was a win for HR professionals everywhere. Civility was on the rise. Yet just a few months on, memories are quick to fade. And it is the relatively tame (at least compared to Ben Polis), yet highly damaging complaints about clients or work mates that can bring about significant damage. ‘I just didn’t think’ says the stunned employee as they come to the realisation their Manager has read everything they have said on the net. Very rarely do they connect the dots that it is usually a colleague that has dobbed them in.

Having a social media policy is not only a must, but until expectations of how to use it become commonly understood, employers should very regularly review their policy until the crinkles are ironed out, as Benetas is currently in the process of doing. If only we could harness the good and quash the bad, each and every staff member could become an advocate for their place of work and the contribution they make.

Needless to say social media is here to stay. As a not for profit organisation with strong values, Benetas now reference checks future staff through Google, Facebook and Linked-in in addition to the traditional means. If social media is all about opinion and reputation, it can be a valuable check to ensure that the people we trust with our clients are of the value set that we expect, and that they don’t have a habit of acting inappropriately in a way that would impact their work.

We are not the first. More and more employers are checking on potential candidates before they sign on the dotted line. Of course employers also have a responsibility to consider such information properly, particularly in regard to authenticity and discrimination. Fortunately our values have created a richly diverse workplace and leadership team who are intolerant to such poor decision making.

The ball then is in the court of the prospective employee. I wonder how many people have thought about what they write and put out into the ether. And do they recognise that their online behaviour will affect their career, both now and into the future. I guess the old saying still applies – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  


About the author

Ellen Flint is General Manager, Personal Development, at Benetas. Benetas is a not-for-profit organisation that provides aged care services for more than 4,000 older Victorians each year within its 11 residential care facilities and through its extensive community care programs. Benetas is dedicated to advocating on behalf of all older people and has an extensive Research and Advocacy Agenda.