Guidelines to employees: Navigating the strange world of workplace social media

For reasons unknown to me, grammar is only of interest to a small group of people. So when a previous workplace brought in a ‘work’ version of Facebook, we set up a special word nerd group to discuss such important matters. I know, way cool, right? #wordnerdsforthewin

When I left that role we hadn’t been wedgied online for our nerdiness yet but we were all aware that just because we were posting on a work-based social networking site didn’t mean we were safe from online bullies. Or that we were safe to say what we wanted.

Why, at one point I barely managed to stop myself from using the Divinyls’ classic ‘I touch myself’ as an example of a reflexive pronoun in the relative safety of the group because it might offend someone. I had some serious internal debating to do before I finally decided not to post.

Such an internal debate is why workplaces should instigate a social media policy to remind employees what is and isn’t acceptable – even if your ‘office' only consists of two people. You might think it’s obvious, but, as Findlaw.co.nz suggests, because of how social media now pervades our lives, it can be useful to “provide guidelines to employees … e.g. comments made about their employer or colleagues on their own equipment in their own time”. #Becausesomeoneisalwayswatching

The urge to share is common and for many people something isn’t real unless it’s online – and it’s not just work-related social media where we are connecting with our colleagues. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat – our narcissism is showing and, quite frankly, it’s a little frightening when it spills out of our personal lives and into the workplace. Those jokes you share with friends in person can result in less than hilarious ramifications when shared online.

In her 2013 article in Attorney at Law magazine on ‘Social Media: A growing concern for the workplace’ Ena T Diaz pertinently pointed out that, “Generally, employees in the workplace think twice about what they say and the amount of information that they share.

However, on social media sites some employees are an open book.”

Clearly the smart thing to do is not friend workmates in the first place – although with the rise of work-based social media, it’s often unavoidable. By friending (now a verb, people) your workmates online, even if you’re not at work, anything you post could be constituted as bullying or even harassment. And your excuse that it was a joke, a compliment, to get a sense of humour, no harm was meant, will sound familiar to anyone who has suffered harassment in any form.

In early 2015 US lawyer Jon Hyman blogged on workforce.com, commenting on social media and harassment, noting that while “Technology connects employees to each other 24/7 … [and] creates opportunities for greater employee engagement and stronger workplace communities … It's important for employers to keep in mind that agencies and courts will apply the same rules to Facebook harassment as they would to face-to-face harassment.”

This was highlighted in our end of the world last year when a woman was accused of workplace bullying in Tasmania for, among other things, defriending a colleague on Facebook. A September 2015 Sydney Morning Herald article reported that the workplace tribunal looking into the case had found that “Unfriending employees on Facebook … could constitute workplace bullying”. #totesawks

The key? Remember that there are rules of engagement for social media. You might want to update #likenooneiswatching, but the reality is that someone probably is.