The Social Media Conundrum

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Is there anyone left who doesn’t have a smartphone welded to the palm of their hand? This seemingly essential piece of technology has become an intrinsic element of our daily routine. It shapes and defines our public selves and provides succor for our apparent need to endlessly broadcast the mind-numbing minutiae of our lives to all those who wait breathlessly for the next installment. You are your phone.

On a personal level that may be your choice, but in the workplace our habituated public displays inevitably present challenges related to privacy, productivity and corporate governance. As with all things new, law, rules and common sense lag behind. In the public sector, an ill-informed tweet can result in moving markets, as happened in August 2018 when Elon Musk decided to tell the world he had secured the funding necessary to take Tesla private. It was false, what he did was wrong, and the Securities and Exchange Commission labored to find a legal basis on which to slap $20 million fines on both Musk and the company itself for misleading investors.

Apart from executive hubris and braggadocio, the careless description of corporate activity or thinking, even to insiders, can result in misunderstanding, human resource headaches and potential disclosure of confidential information. You know it’s only going to get worse as the next new social media platform is adopted as the flavor of the year and we race to fill it with our self-validating vanity.

And what about productivity? Is it actually possible anymore to define what a day’s work means when employees are incessantly texting their friends, changing channels on Spotify, watching sports, movies and shopping online? With ear buds blocking out external sensation, such as that ringing and ignored telephone on their desk, co-workers are obliged to raise voices or touch the person (another problem, another story) to get attention. And you wonder why the company's wireless connection is so slow - bandwidth is getting swallowed up in the maw of personal self-indulgence.

So, how’s that Employee Handbook looking? I’m sure you’ve got all this covered, right? Right...

The task at hand is to find balance between the inevitable, the unenforceable, the reasonable and the necessary. This well-entrenched two-edged technology genie is very much out of the bottle and HR is obligated to draw some lines that cannot be crossed. It is obvious the potential for distraction, even to the point of safety, is legion. Short of creating a corporate police state, we are left to appeals for sensibility, responsibility and fairness to the employer. That’s a tall order.

At a minimum, the following rules should be considered:

  • No disclosure, broadcast or publication of any company information without approval.
  • Signed confidentiality agreements by employees.
  • A written policy on cell phone usage in the workplace.
  • A written policy on the use of texting and email as it relates to company communication.
  • Denial of wireless connectivity to personal devices brought into the workplace.

It is a safe bet that most firms are unprepared to address the interactive nature of today’s world. Information can be re-broadcast infinitely across multiple platforms and it can be altered and distorted along the way. Unlike email, businesses have no effective means to capture texts for archive as part of the corporate record. He said/she said is a shaky defense when there is no proof and due diligence cannot be shown.

Defining the rules of this ever-changing game are requisite on all businesses, public or otherwise. Accountability and compliance are essential components of management and a stronger supervisory focus is incumbent on this challenging issue.


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