Social media in the workplace packs a one-two punch for employers who are often left scratching their respective heads over how to implement or enforce computer policies pertaining to their personnel.  With the exception of computers replacing typewriters, there has likely been no other greater change to the workplace environment and definitely social media is here to stay.

History of Computers at Work

Unless you’re a millennial, you might remember when you first used a computer in the workplace.  To borrow a phrase from Dr. Seuss:  “Oh, the places you’ll go” – soon employees were surfing the net, playing “Elf Bowling”, viewing crazy cat videos or laughing out loud at e-mails laden with graphic images, and let’s clarify that by graphic images, we’re not necessarily talking about naughty photos, but images with a lot of color or movement which hog space in your e-mail inbox.  By the time those funny e-mails made the rounds of the office staff, the computer system had slowed down to a crawl.  Not only did all those e-mails and internet usage slow down the office computer system, but it slowed employee productivity down as well!  Soon, the H.R. department was issuing an edict over personal use of the work computer.  You might have been restricted to personal PC use on your lunch hour, or maybe not at all.  Soon companies were asking their labor lawyers to draft a document that every employee had to sign and was placed in their personnel file– no internet usage during work hours.

That alleviated the problem – for a while, anyway.  Home computers with blazing internet speeds replaced dial-up services and soon there were portable devices with internet as well.  Then Smartphones became the rage and employees could go online to e-mail, text or surf the internet without their employer being able to track their internet history or personal online time during the workday.  But sometimes, despite employees being asked not to use company computers for personal use, such edicts tend to fall by the wayside as it seen below.

Nag, nag, nag

Hopefully employers are tolerant about certain times of the year when employees tend to overlook restrictions of personal use of workplace computers.  Those two times are Cyber Monday and throughout March Madness.  Back when Cyber Monday originated in 2005, computer usage, while on the clock, in order to get the bargains missed while shopping in the brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday, was a real problem.  People shopped ‘til they dropped over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and still needed bargains.  Back in those days, the majority of people had dial-up internet in the home, and, if you’ve ever used it, it was slow and at times cantankerous.  So surfing the internet on your work computer to snatch up great bargains was the way to go.  What’s a boss to do?  It is the same scenario during the college basketball extravaganza we term “March Madness”; employees have the game going in one window and their work in another, meanwhile sneaking a peek away from the watchful eye of the boss or supervisor.  That’s not so bad, but if everyone is streaming that basketball game it slows down or might crash the workplace computer system.  So, implementing a policy regarding personal use of work computers during work hours might be in order and having the employee acknowledge receipt of the policy is also a good idea.

Just as problematic as personal computer usage in the workplace, is the cell phone.  Employees arrive at their desk, pull their Smartphone out of their pocket or purse and lay it on the desk.  Employers, who have once taken a hard stand on personal phone use during work time, can no longer track personal calls on an employee’s phone when they use their cell phone to make and receive those calls.

A time and place for Facebook

Facebook, who now celebrates having 1.55 billion monthly active users (as of the third quarter of 2015) is similarly a current challenge for employers, both during and after-work hours.  Facebook has become so addicting for some people that they simply cannot stay away from this forum.  Often Facebook “friends” and “work friends” are intermingled, so what used to be idle gossiping about occurrences in the workplace around the proverbial water cooler, now has become an online meeting place for gripes and gossip about work and co-workers.  It seems sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.  Sometimes the angst over workplace rules and regs and goings-on is carried beyond the close of the business day.  One of the most-controversial topics in labor law recently was when the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) recently determined that a company had violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) by firing two employees who were having a Facebook discussion regarding the employees’ discovery that they had to pay additional state income tax due to a mistake made by their employer.  The NLRB determined that the company was in error to fire its employees for “engaging in inappropriate discussions about the company, management and/or co-workers” saying that employers must permit employees to discuss their workplace terms and conditions.

“Distracted from distraction by distraction” – T.S. Eliot

Words to the wise

As to Facebook, with that many users, it is a sure bet that when an employer is interviewing a potential candidate for a position with the company, there is a good chance that if the interviewer has his or her own Facebook or Twitter account, they will search those sites to see if the interviewee is a user and peruse their posts.  A wise employee familiarizes themselves with social media privacy settings so their posts or comments, as well as items that others “tag” them in, are only visible to their friends and not to “public”.  Likewise, the modern-day employee is all about filling their LinkedIn profile with their attributes and having a repertoire that is chock full of endorsements by colleagues, both in and out of the workplace.  But beware, someone is always watching and paying attention to what you are posting – be it a co-worker or your boss.  When you suddenly update your LinkedIn profile and including endorsements by multiple coworkers, your boss might deem that activity to mean you are on the prowl for a new job.