Social media and your practice

The recent ‘firing’ of a children’s party entertainer for posting a political opinion on social media has raised several questions around the interplay between social media and the workplace. This article examines the pros and cons of social media in the workplace and explains how a series of relevant policies can help your practice stay on top of the ever-growing reach of social media platforms.

The pros

When examining social media purely from a human resources perspective there are not many notable benefits, but this doesn’t mean it’s all bad. As the number of Generation Y employees in the workforce continues to grow it would be naive to assume that social media will not exist in your practice, at least in some capacity.

Nowadays it is common for employees and managers at a practice to communicate online, particularly through popular social media platforms such as Facebook or WhatsApp. This has obvious benefits, considering how frequently many individuals access social media in contemporary society. If used properly, social media can help a practice communicate important or urgent messages to staff with greater ease. Social media can also be an effective platform to organise staff social events outside of work.

Although the benefits of social media are limited from a HR viewpoint, its ability to positively affect your practice holistically is profound. In Australia alone there are 3.2 million small businesses and there are millions of Australians on social media every day. Having a social media presence makes commercial sense, depending on which way you look at it. The commercial benefits of social media include the ability to advertise your services, making your presence felt in the community and allowing for a ‘notice board’ on which clients can share their positive experiences with your practice.

The cons

Inevitably, there are instances where social media can be damaging to a practice. The case mentioned at the beginning of this article is testament to this, for many reasons. In this case, a contractor who was engaged by another business to perform at children’s parties was ‘fired’ for broadcasting on Facebook a political opinion that was not aligned to the views of that business. Given the sensitivity of the issue, as well as the clientele of the business, they feared the contractor’s political opinion on public display via Facebook would negatively affect their reputation and cause clients to sever ties.

This case highlights some of the intricacies of social media use and the workplace. It also brings to question whether an employer can discipline a worker for publicly expressing their opinion in relation to a topical issue via an online platform. Although this individual was an independent contractor and could not claim unfair dismissal they potentially have grounds to claim for discrimination, because they were adversely affected as a result of their political views.

The issue of whether an employee can be disciplined or even terminated for activity on social media will rely on several factors. These include the link between the social media activity and the workplace (i.e. a post about the workplace itself or its employees) and whether any policies regarding social media use exist in that workplace.

Before taking any action against an employee for their exploits on social media, employers need to ensure they follow procedural fairness. It is strongly recommended that members contact the AVA HR Advisory Service before taking any such action.

Social media at work can also be detrimental to the practice when employees are spending excessive amounts of time on their devices during working hours. Not only does this distract employees from their current tasks, but overall productivity and customer service can also be negatively affected. In extreme circumstances, social media can also allow for cyber bullying to fester among staff.

Furthermore, some employees might use the practice’s computers or devices for personal use during work hours. This can also bring with it issues, such as viewing inappropriate content that may be offensive to other staff or even clients if it is in view.

Managing these issues can be complex, so it is strongly recommended to implement a social media policy that addresses the concerns raised around social media use. At the same time, a computer and internet use policy is also recommended, as well as a policy around the use of mobile phones at work.

By having these policies in place staff are clearly made aware of what is/isn’t acceptable and understand the disciplinary action that may be taken as consequence for a breach of policy.

Jack Byrnes
HR Advisor
Wentworth Advantage

This article appeared in the November 2017 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal

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