Wot, no cat pictures?

I had THAT conversation again yesterday.

The one where, following my confession to loving all things social, someone replied:

Urgh. I can’t be bothered with all that. It’s just cat pictures and what people had for their breakfast.

Here’s the thing.

It really isn’t.

Here’s the second thing.

If you are on social media and that is actually your feed, then my advice is follow better people.

Find some more interesting friends. Hit your unfollow button – that is what it is there for.

If you are however saying this and you are not actually on social media then I am going to suggest trying it for yourself. To establish whether or not this is reality or just a belief.

That is all.

Watching the Watchers

Tim and Gem Book Promo Pic

I’m going to confess, right up front.  This blog post is a shameless plug for my new ebook on social media, written with that very nice Tim Scott, better known on Twitter as @TimScottHR.  Confession done.  Now that is out of the way, here is the post:

A few months ago, someone asked me whether or not I thought organisations should have a social media supervisor.  You know, someone who would keep an eye on what employees are saying and sharing in their social world.

At first I laughed a bit.  And then I realised it was actually a serious question.  So I attempted a serious answer.

Social media is 24/7, global, immediate.  Every single minute there are millions of Facebook posts, LinkedIn updates, Tweets, Pins, likes, comments and shares.  Social is constantly growing, constantly evolving.  I’ve seen Twitter in particular described as ‘the conversation that never sleeps’.  On that basis, neither could any social media supervisor.

Of course your employees can, and probably will, do stuff on social media that they shouldn’t. I’ve blogged on the subject before.  For some people, it might result in a disciplinary hearing.  For others, as the headlines have repeatedly shown us, it can result in the loss of their job and reputation.  But handing someone a contract of employment does not give you the right to monitor every aspect of their lives.  For many folks, social media is just that.  Social.  In the old pre Facebook days, you wouldn’t have thought to follow them down the pub and eavesdrop on their conversations with their mates.  So why would you do it in the social world?  I’m being glib, perhaps.  Because a pub conversation can’t of course go viral.

But I’d argue that taking the supervision approach will just give you more problems.  Practical ones and more fundamental ones too.  Issues of both privacy and human rights are relevant here.  But so is your retention rate.  Would you really want to work somewhere that monitored your every tweet and status update?  I wouldn’t.  I’d go and work somewhere less Victorian instead.

And then the thought occurred.  In this 1984-esque vision of employee monitoring, who supervises the social media supervisor?  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

And just in case you want to know more about all of this social stuff, here is a link to the book. I think it is rather good.  And so does my mum. 

The cover for the book was designed by the fabulous Simon Heath

Twitter, employment law and common sense.

A case involving social media and employment has made its way to the Employment Appeals Tribunal.  The case involved an employee dismissed for his use of Twitter, and is interesting to HR for a few reasons.

Firstly, it contains some legal folk getting to grips with the terminology of the social world, which is always amusing.  Secondly, it contained this gem of a sentence, referring to the tweets in question.

In her witness statement, she added that they were offensive to other groups of people including dentists, caravan drivers, golfers, the A&E department, Newcastle supporters, the police and disabled people.  As you would expect, I disapprove of the latter.  But I fairly sure none of the others are protected characteristics so I feel it is acceptable to laugh.  Especially at the caravan drivers bit.

The facts of the case are these.  The claimant, Mr Laws, worked for the retail outlet Game.  His job was risk and loss prevention.  He set up a Twitter account and followed a number of Game’s stores, each of whom had their own Twitter account, in order to monitor their tweets and any potential inappropriate Twitter activity by employees.  Many of these stores followed him back in return.  At least one of the stores had tweeted from their account suggesting that their followers might also want to follow the claimant.  (It is unclear from the decision if the concept of #ff was explained in evidence).  However, despite the fact that there was a clear link to his work even though the account itself did not identify his employer, Mr Laws tweeted all manner of offensive tweets, including some delightful use of the C word.

Someone told Game, and Mr Laws was suspended, investigated and subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.  Another interesting sentence in the decision is this one, referring to the date of Mr Law’s suspension.  By that time he had enlisted the assistance of his 14 year old son, and taken down his twitter feed.  What would we do without Generation Z, eh?

The case results in a tribunal hearing to determine if the dismissal was unfair.  The claimant doesn’t dispute he sent the tweets, but did argue that the sanction was too harsh.  The tribunal held that the employer hadn’t been reasonable in the decision to dismiss.  They took into account that the tweeting was done in his own time, that he was using his own device and that the activity wasn’t part of his job.  For me, these arguments just don’t stand up in the real, social world.  I tweet HR stuff.  My twitter bio doesn’t identify my employer.  But I know that I am followed by lots of people that work at the same place, and my tweets can be seen by our customers, potential employees, my boss, anyone.  And I am capable of bringing my employer into disrepute by what I post. Some might argue my One Direction tweets already do. Social blurs the boundaries between work stuff and not work stuff. My advice is simple.  Get two accounts or protect your tweets.  Then you can misbehave in private if you wish.

One other important point came up in the first hearing.  Game had no social media policy.  You do need one.  It doesn’t need to be the size of a brick.  But you do need to tell people what is okay and what is not.

Game appealed, and the decision that the action taken by Game fell outside the responses of a reasonable employer was overturned.   The useful bit of the case is that the tribunal were invited to lay down some general guidance on misuse of social media in the context of unfair dismissal claims.  They declined to do so.  In a break out of common sense, they said that the existing law was good enough, and that cases would always be very fact and context specific.  What employers need to do is what they already required to do – be reasonable in the circumstances. They also said that companies will want to find a balance between the employee’s right of freedom of expression and managing their reputational risk.  They finished with this: For us to lay down a criteria by way of guidance runs the risk of encouraging a tick box mentality that is inappropriate in unfair dismissal cases.  Awesome.

What seems to me to be clear from this case, is that the claimant was a bit of an idiot.  And we should not generate guidance, binding case law or policies, based on or for idiots.

You can think what you like.  You can say what you like.  You can pretty much tweet what you like, unless you are breaking the law with your 140 characters.  But a little common sense would tell you that tweeting whatever comes to mind, especially when it includes expletives, obscenities and insults (not to mention some very dubious spelling and grammar) is going to cause you an issue if that account is linked in any way to your job.  Common sense.  Something that should be exercised alongside your social media use at all times.  And if you don’t know how to do that, you could always ask a 14 year old.

Employees will do dumb stuff on social media (shock)

I had that social media conversation a few days ago, with a fellow HR professional. You know the one. About risk. About whether or not employees would do dumb stuff on social media if you gave them access, encouraged its use.

My answer was this. Yes, employees will definitely do dumb stuff on social media.

Why? It’s simple.

Employees have always done dumb stuff at work, and social is no different. And if you have been in HR for a while, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I know I have seen my fair share of dumb stuff over the years.

There was the employee who decided to smoke a special roll up in his car on his mid shift break. Only his car was parked directly under the car park CCTV camera and we got the whole thing on film.

There was the employee who came to work still drunk from the previous evening, and was found fast asleep on his desk, using the Yellow Pages as a pillow.
There was the one who made a lengthy call to sex chatline, whilst working in a call centre. Where calls were monitored and recorded for training and development purposes.

There was the employee who took a photograph of a certain part of his anatomy, and emailed it to several of his colleagues via his work email address.

There was the employee whose ‘trousers fell off’ whilst visiting a female customer’s home, while he was also rummaging around her bedroom.

Then there was the group of employees who filmed themselves causing damage to company property, whilst wearing their branded uniform, and then uploaded it to You Tube. With their faces on full view.

And then there was the employee who threw a Satsuma at the head of the call centre causing him to fall of his chair and split his head open on the corner of the desk.

Employees will do dumb stuff at work and on social media, because they are human beings, and sometimes, human beings are dumb. We do things that don’t make sense. We do things that are not good for us. We are not always rationale or sensible.

Here’s the thing. When it comes to social media at work, all the restrictions and the policies and the surveillance in the world won’t stop it. But on the way to trying, you might just lose something. So on balance, if employees do something dumb on social media, it really isn’t the end of the world.

And just as with the employee caught stealing, or over-claiming expenses, or misusing any of the other technology they have access to, or indeed any of the other things that fall under the scope of the disciplinary policy (up to and including dismissal) then we will deal with it. Just the same as in HR, we always have.

Note to readers: all the above examples are over ten years old. So anyone I have worked with recently can stop wondering who had the trousers incident.