Money & Business

Study: Employers' Need for Stricter Social Media Policies Increasing

By / Jun 2, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

A new survey finds employers are becoming more likely to discipline employees who misuse social media at work or home. Though an increasing number of workplaces are instituting formal policies restricting social media use, the study argues that employers should go even further.

For employers, the headaches that come along with employees’ personal social media use have become a fact of life. And according to a recent study, more and more employers are pulling out the reprimands in response to questionable online activity by staff.

Prosauker’s “Social Media in the Workplace Around the World 3.0” [PDF] 2013-2014 survey, an analysis of social media practices worldwide based on responses from 110 companies spanning a range of industries, found a big surge in the number of firms that reported taking disciplinary action against employees for issues related to social media misuse compared with the 2012 survey. That year, 35 percent of employers said they took disciplinary action; this year, a full 70 percent did.

Other highlights from the study:

Balancing business and personal: With more than 88 percent of all businesses surveyed using social media in some form (nearly half having done so for three years or longer), it is clearly an important part of the landscape for many organizations. But policies on personal social media usage at work have tightened in recent years, with more than 30 percent of respondents prohibiting all employees from accessing social sites for nonbusiness use, 36 percent implementing formal blocks on access, and 41 percent monitoring social media use by employees. All three represent increases from previous surveys.

Different countries, different policies: The study highlighted the disparities among various countries’ laws regarding social media policies and privacy rights. “In nearly all the jurisdictions, an employer is permitted to prohibit the use of social media sites during work, both on equipment provided by the employer and on the employee’s own devices,” the study notes. “However, the prohibition against use of social media sites on an employee’s own devices would not give the employer the right to monitor such devices (which would infringe the employee’s right to privacy in many jurisdictions); rather, the prohibition would be an incident of the employer’s general right to require employees to devote their working hours to their work.” Countries such as Canada and Ireland allow some monitoring of an employee’s social media use, with restrictions; countries such as Brazil and Italy generally do not. The U.S., meanwhile, protects certain collective activities by workers, including those carried out using social media, under the National Labor Relations Act.

Need for action: The increase of social media-related issues means that more action is needed by employers, the study argues. Policies for employee social media use are becoming increasingly common. Some 78 percent of organizations in the survey have some sort of policy in place, and 52 percent have policies that apply to both work and personal usage. Still, the study says, “businesses should and could be doing more to reduce the risks they face,” especially as social media becomes more prevalent. “The importance of taking these risk-reducing actions is all the more pressing given our finding that the overwhelming majority of businesses anticipate that social media misuse is going to increase in the future,” the study states.

But this may prove easier said than done. Some respondents noted that restrictive social media policies often turn off workers or go against the organization’s business goals, despite the risks lax policies can raise.

“Blocking personal use of social media lowers the number of job applicants, so it’s seen as a must-have item for new employees,” one wrote.

The full study is available on the Proskauer website.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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