There are many stories out there already. There is the one with the salesman who scans Twitter for hours. And then there is the employee who harasses a co-worker several cubicles down from him by hijacking her Facebook account and posting harassing comments. And of course there is the ubiquitous case of the worker that slams the employer on LinkedIn and is fired, thus exacting a morale-busting toll on the employee, the workplace and the organization.
But can the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and FourSquare be used in the workplace in a way that doesn't expose supervisors and employing organizations to moral and legal liability? Can the anonymity-germinated freedom of the Internet that workplace bullies, would-be Lotharios and just plain lazy folks are emboldened by be controlled and channeled into worker productivity? The answer is a resounding yes.
While social networking is a relatively recent technological manifestation, other forms of technology have long dotted the desks and shared the cubicles of workers. The phone, the fax and the copy machine are but three examples of other technologies that could, at least to some extent, be abused by the lazy up to the downright criminal worker.
The key for supervisors and executives is to recognize the uses and abuses facilitated by the innovation and what steps should be taken to control the relevant actions.
Here are a few tips that you can implement in your enterprise today:
Have clear policies. Very specific policies need to be in place, which govern the usage of the Internet and social networking sites. While some organizations may find it easier to just ban their access altogether, this is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A middle-of-the-road approach is probably more appropriate for most employers. Have them sign for those policies indicating that they have read, understood and had the opportunity to ask questions.
Educate employees. Make sure that employees, as well as supervisors, understand what is expected of them as far as social networking conduct within and when referring to the workplace. While you're at it, reinforce sexual harassment, related issues and their relevant consequences even when they're taking place within the virtual world.
Employees that bash the workplace online can be heading to a heartache-laden experience for everyone. While free speech and whistleblower protections exist, the laws vary from state to state. Employees may not be on as solid footing as they thought when confronted with disparaging comments they posted online about the employer or a fellow worker.
Take steps to assure them that such online networking etiquette expectations are in place to protect them, as well as the company.
Take technological precautions. Be sure to keep one step ahead of the nefarious forces of the Internet. Continuously updated anti-virus protection, mandatory changing of passwords on a temporal basis and strong firewall protections are imperative to the smooth operation of your endeavor in the new social networking world. Web filtering systems are also available to enable the employer to restrict access based on a number of different options including time frame (such as breaks or lunchtime) or a time limit (such as one hour per day).
Monitor usage. Be able to monitor Internet usage and, in particular, social networking within the workplace. Be sure that employees understand that their computer interaction is being recorded. This oversight is vital as the company may bear civil or criminal responsibility for some actions of their employees.
The democratization effect of the technology has diffused communication channels and put more power in the hands of individuals. As said in Spiderman: "With great power comes great responsibility." Employers need to be properly suited up to fight the scourge of villainous social networking in the workplace.
Dr. Richard Weinblatt, "The Cop Doc," is a former police chief, ex-criminal justice professor and past police academy director who is an expert on police, crime and safety topics. A speaker and book author, Dr. Weinblatt regularly writes articles and has been interviewed in the media including CBS News, CNN, MSNBC and The Washington Post. To find out more or to contact Dr. Weinblatt, visit http://www.thecopdoc.com/.