The more time I am spending meeting contemporaries in organisations across Australia, the more I realise that there is a real gap in the HR compliance risk management suite. They are generally ticking off the EEO and Safety pieces, even though often with under done and humiliatingly boring programs signed off by ‘lawyers’. Yet right now, perhaps the biggest risk in the Human Resource area is uncontrolled broadcasting of information and personal opinions about organisational practices, strategies, and inter-personal relationships over social media networks. This is a HUGE risk! We know because unlike many of the lawyers who sign off your eLearning modules we are living it everyday through our busy workplace investigations unit.
Everyday iHR Australia is seeing first hand the risk that misguided use of social media is placing on brands, staff relationships and competitive advantage. Through our investigations it has become clear that organisations are failing to communicate and apply rigour around use of social media. There is also a clear lack of commitment to training on the key content of the social media policy.
Take the case of Angie. A 27 year old receptionist. A bright woman who loves people interaction and has a rampant social life. Brian, a 38 year old investment banker likes to flirt with her. His comments about her dress sense, perfumes and body shape along with his tendency to touch her, if only on the shoulder, are not particularly welcome. Brian, however, is respected, influential and brilliant industry technician. Although the organisation has a clear anti-discrimination, harassment and bullying policy and some light weight eLearning, Angie doesn’t have the confidence to report the matter due to Brian’s status in the organisation. Instead she shares her displeasure with her friends from both outside and inside work via Whatsapp. To cut a long story short, her allegations and criticisms regarding Brian are recorded on a screen shot broadcast via Instagram by one of her work friends who also doesn’t like Brian. The situation becomes messy. Human Resource’s investigate the matter and find breaches of two policies; Brian the Workplace discrimination, harassment policy and Angie and friend, Samitra, the Social Media Policy. Brian is counselled and required to redo the EEO training program. Samitra and Angie and given formal warnings, later to be retracted on the orders of Fair Work due to the fact there was no training related to the social media policy.
Why are companies missing the Social Media Risk?
First, its complex legally. In many ways social media is unchartered territory. The legal system itself seems to be coming to terms with the boundaries and definitions of social media.
Second, there are no specific laws around social media use. It interfaces with a range of parliamentary acts related to privacy, human rights and safety to mention but a few. It makes writing effective policy a little like shooting in the dark. It also means that social media misuse is work in progress for courts and tribunals.
Third, monitoring social media use is a nightmare. Companies, think they have full proof tracking systems until they remember that social media extends way beyond Facebook and twitter and dissolves itself into chat and private message networks such as Whatsapp, Line or WeChat
What to do
1. Have a policy that is clear about what staff are NOT allowed to publish or discuss across social media networks. It needs to properly define what is meant by Social Media
2. Annual and consistent induction training that adequately defines social media and clearly describes the limits on employees use of social media in the organisational context
3. Constant updating of the policy and training content to match the changing environment
4. Reinforcement of social media responsibilities continually and in interesting ways such as games and case law
5. Building a culture where people value your brand and understand the potential threats that exist to the organisation and their colleagues when the brand is brought into disrepute.