Tag Archives: Social media

reputation management

Social media a danger zone for HR professionals

Career coaches are constantly exhorting candidates to take care of their cyber foot print, especially at entry-level. All recruiters and headhunters usually check out applicants online before meeting them. Line managers have been warned to pay attention when liking and sharing inappropriate content on LinkedIn. Many are unaware it all goes out to an individual’s whole network and can potentially damage their personal brand. Direct reports say that it looks creepy!  But social media is now becoming an unforseen danger zone for HR Managers. They too have to be mindful of their social media activity.  Social media posting is now part of the daily routine for those working in the function, but it can have a downside.  Any ill-considered content could be not just be damaging to their reputations, but can also be used in legal action.

Social media activity reflects our belief systems 

There is a new discussion around posting and tweeting  on issues which are important to us personally. They reflect our views, values, our belief systems. But to counter that, they are they also an indication of deeply embedded biases and attitudes. The question is whether they are going to follow us into the workplace and impact our decision-making.  Or are they  a form of authentic expression separate from our professional lives? Adding a disclaimer may be enough for any organisation, but what about a legal process?

Clearly I could never get a job in UKIP or any European Fascist Party. Needless to say I don’t lose sleep over that. Or I might, if there is a populist takeover and all dissenters are rounded up. That has happened before.

Shifting culture

We are seeing increasing cultural and political shifts, with strong feelings and rhetoric on all sides.  Is it possible to separate what we see posted in the public domain, from the person’s ability to do an unbiased, neutral and professional job? The lines are actually very blurred.

Here are two stories that have been shared with me only this week. The names have been changed for obvious reasons.

Aliyha is a research chemist with an international company based near Birmingham, U.K. She has received what she experiences as unconstructive and even obstructive communication from her HR Manager, Alison, regarding her career progression. Aliyha is seeing her peers’ careers developing at a different (i.e. more advantageous) pace.  Last week she discovered quite accidentally that Alison has been very energetically re-tweeting Katie Hopkins over a long period.

I checked out the account and the profile is the usual benign HR blurb: “HR Management, CIPD, mother and wife etc.” She also endorses Katie Hopkins and her opinions somewhat enthusiastically  – at least once a day.  Depending on your point of view, Hopkins will be a “controversial columnist” or a provocative hate generating commentator. She has caused outrage and legal action associated with her comments on immigration, overweight people and even children’s names, as well as personal vindictive attacks resulting in libel suits.  Aliyha asked

“I have no reason to believe that my performance is lower than that of my colleagues. My annual appraisals have always been excellent.  I have never had any problems at all until Alison became my HR Manager.  Is it because I am the daughter of immigrants, a bit on the chubby side and have an Arabic name  – could this be what is coming into play now?”

The answer is we will never know for sure, but there is no doubt that if Aliyha’s complaint becomes a case, her lawyer confirmed he intends to reference Alison’s online and social media activity and support of a racist, as an indicator or her inherent bias and prejudice.

Backlash 

At the other end of the scale Michael is a Trump voter. An HR Director in a security company in San Diego,  he believed his social media activity was minimal. However, he  has openly supported Trump on his Facebook page and posted pro-Trump comments on LinkedIn. Since the November election he has been surprised danger zone for HR professionalsto encounter negative undercurrents from colleagues, who now question his commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workforce for the company.

He has been called a racist and misogynist. His peers and team have told him that even if these are not his personal views, it is clear that he tacitly approves the stance of  President Trump. Michael feels that he has unfairly lost the trust of colleagues and employees and he is the victim of bias and prejudice.

I asked Annabel Kaye, Managing Director Irenicon a UK-based employment law specialist if there is a case.  She agrees social media is a danger zone for HR.

HR Managers should be and always are careful of their online posts. It is entirely possible that Twitter support of Katie Hopkins for example could indicate unconscious racial bias if not active racial prejudice. Whilst it is not definitive proof either way, certainly in the UK it would allow the ‘inference’ to be drawn that any decisions made by the HR person who made those tweets might be influenced by bias and thus put their employer at increased risk of losing a discrimination case.

For this reason most HR people who tweet use things like  “my opinions only – nothing to do with my employer”   on their bio as disclaimers.

But as discrimination cases are often about what people think (consciously or unconsciously) this would still be evidence as to their state of mind. Of course in the UK individuals who make discriminatory decisions are potentially liable as well as the organisation. So all in all, not a good plan to publicly support racists, sexists, or other discriminatory tweeters or characters if you don’t want this coming to an employment tribunal near you.

Of course, this is not definitive proof of discrimination or bias, but it is another item that is going to be used in tribunal.

Separate personal and professional

So what does this mean for HR and our social media activity and how it relates to personal branding and reputation management?  Should HR or even all professionals go back to the old school way of keeping our views on sex, religion and politics separate to our professional personas?  At what point do they decide that social media can be a danger zone for HR managers? And  then what happens if what we tweet is out of alignment with the values of our organization even with a disclaimer?

So where do you stand in the danger zone for HR professionals?

 

 

 

Employee social media usage restricted by contract

If one summer poolside conversation is anything to go by, there seems to be growing evidence of companies trying to ring-fence their organisations against the social media activity of their employees. It’s no longer simply just the odd high-profile, headline cases or instances of individuals being disciplined for posting sensitive content about their bosses, jobs or inferior cafeteria food. Nor is it about the use of company time for social networking. This is a wider spread, behind the scenes movement to restrict or clarify  employee social media activity (depending on your view-point)  via changes to employment contracts and the issuing of new conditions of service.

Mainstream

Sophie, an associate in a London-based consulting firm told me that she had recently been asked not to tweet on issues in the organisation’s geographic reach. As an international market leader, the activities of this company span many countries, so this was a significant restriction on what she considered to be her freedom of speech. An Account Manager who has been using LinkedIn for identifying prospects for business development purposes, has received a request from his manager to disconnect from these members. He was informed that the only information on the prospect should be on the company data base. An employee has also been asked to uncheck the options contact for career opportunities and job inquiries on his LinkedIn profile and to post a restricted career history.

Do you need help creating a strong online professional presence?

Catch up

The corporate world has always lagged behind the wider culture with regard to social media usage and as I predicted some time ago,  some sort of ” catch-up”  attempt was therefore inevitable. Employees can realistically expect to have the following conditions imposed on them in the forseeable future:

  • Prohibition of the use of employer-related information in any kind of employee postings
  • Restrictions on usage of social media sites during office hours using company hardware and systems
  • Prohibition on the disclosure/use of any sensitive, proprietary, confidential or financial information about the business or its clients
  • Prohibition of employee endorsement, direct or implicitly of the  organisation’s business in any statement or posting
  • Prevention of engagement in conduct that would violate the employer’s other workplace policies, such as anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies
  • Information relating to any disciplinary policies up to and including termination of employment for infractions or violations of company policy

Employees should:

  • Never release the passwords of their social media accounts to third parties
  • Always use a private email address rather than a business one for all social media contact if in any doubt about  how their social media activities will be perceived by their organisations
  • Never block a connection on LinkedIn on the instructions of a superior. This action is irreversible and the connection may be needed later
  • Discuss openly with any manager who requests a restriction on contact possibilities on a LinkedIn profile. Career opportunities, job inquiries, new ventures and business deals can also afford opportunities for the organisation, not just the individual.  It is also a personal profile so individuals should be able to present their career history in any way that doesn’t damage the business interests of their employer.

The rub of course lies in this final point and where the overlap of personal and corporate interests become hazy. Overall, the social media revolution represents a fundamental shift in the way we communicate and the value of the opportunities  is significant to all. What should be in place are measures that protect organisations and employees alike.

Have you been formally asked to restrict your social media activities via new conditions of service and employment? Please share your experience.