HR Policies & Procedures

Pros and Cons of ‘Friending’ Employees Online

As an HR professional, likely there will be many times when you’ll be called upon to mediate or help to resolve personnel issues. This may be something as simple as a misunderstanding or it may be a much more serious issue, like discrimination or harassment, or anything in between.

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In today’s increasingly connected world, one topic that you may have to address is the fact that employees and their managers (and even those higher up in the organization) may end up interacting online (outside of work) in a more social format, such as social media networks. There are definite pros and cons that come with this, and some organizations have even implemented rules about such actions as part of their social media policy. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons associated with employees and managers connecting online via social media.

Pros to Employees and Managers Connecting on Social Networks

Here are some of the potential benefits to employees and managers connecting online via social networks.

  • It may foster a better working relationship, in an ideal world, by allowing each to see a more well-rounded view of the other.
  • The connection will expand the network of the employee and the manager, which may improve networking opportunities for both. The employee may benefit in the form of being visible to management in a positive way and being connected socially. The employer may be able to tap into the employee’s connections to help the organization in some capacity.
  • Being involved in online interactions with employees may allow the manager to more quickly discover if there are harassment issues occurring online between employees. (This is clearly not a guarantee but is nonetheless a possibility.)
  • Using social media can facilitate sharing of ideas and having an open working relationship.
  • Interacting socially can help employees to feel connected and engaged with others in the workplace.
  • In some cases, employers may be able to encourage employees to use social media to promote the organization or to help recruit new employees.

Cons to Employees and Managers Connecting on Social Networks

Of course, there are also some negative issues associated with managers and employees connecting on social media networks. Here are a few:

  • The connection and interaction may give rise to favoritism claims if the manager is not friends with all work associates.
  • Seeing an employee’s full profile (and posts) could give the employer information that it never wanted to have, such as genetic information in the form of family medical history. For example, an employee might post about a close relative battling cancer. This would be medical information that the employer did not need to know.
  • Seeing an employee’s full profile and posts also could provide the employer information about an employee’s religious affiliation or inclusion in some protected class. This knowledge itself may not cause harm, but it could be potentially shown as evidence that the employer knew of this factor if there is a later claim of discrimination.
  • The employee’s after-work behavior may become a topic of concern. This can create ethical conundrums for employers looking to be fair to all employees, yet only having evidence of specific behaviors for those who are connected on social media. (In other words, it erodes employee privacy and could result in situations where employees are not treated consistently.)
  • Employees may actually feel stifled in their personal life if they feel they’re unable to be open on their social networks for fear of consequences at work. While there may be some ways around this through privacy controls, not all employees will take advantage of those.
  • If the employee is using social media during the workday, this will be readily apparent to those who are connected to him or her. This can bring up possible disciplinary issues that may have never arisen if it weren’t for the social media connection. It can make it more difficult to be fair in such discipline as well.
  • There’s a risk of “guilt by association” when an employee’s friends post objectionable content that is visible to the employee’s manager.

This list is, of course, not comprehensive, but it paints a picture of some of the many benefits and concerns associated with connecting managers and employees on social media or other online avenues.

What’s your organization’s take on fraternization on social media among managers and employees? Is it encouraged? Discouraged? Do you have a formal policy in place?

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