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Social networking and managing performance
- Time theft: employers may be concerned that employees are spending too long using company computers for personal reasons such as sending personal emails, updating social network accounts, shopping online.
- Work organisation: the use of social media often blurs the distinction between work and home life, with many employees available at home and while travelling. This has led some employers to put more emphasis on managing the tasks an employee performs rather than managing the time they work.
- Managing remotely: use of social media is allowing many employees to work remotely, which offers unique challenges for performance management.
Acas Senior Policy Advisor, Adrian Wakeling, talks about social media in the workplace.
- Better work life balance: By managing the person not the employee, and being aware of issues at home as well as at work, businesses can get more flexibility from the hours and the way employees work, and employees can have more choice about when they undertake work and home activities.
- Improved communication: between a line manager and their staff. Colleagues can use tweets, smart phones, emails, internal message boards and professional networking sites to keep in touch.
- More responsibility for individual employees and teams: Although knowledge sharing often leads to a greater centralisation of information resources, employees can get more freedom in the way they manage their workloads.
- Productivity issues: in some organisations productivity could be badly affected by employees spending too much time away from core work duties1. It can be hard for managers when employees switch quickly between business and personal use of social media - for example, flicking between professional and social networking sites - often using different tools for access (eg personal, work phones etc).
- Health and safety: many employees are using personal social networking as a way of switching off from work rather than having regulated breaks away from IT equipment.
- Addiction: the use of social media can become addictive to varying degrees - from constantly checking work emails, often at home, through to deeper personal problems, such as on-line gambling. Where there is a serious problem, employees may need to be encouraged to seek specialist help.
- Monitoring: for employers, heavy-handed monitoring of the use of social media can cause bad feeling and be time consuming. Employees may be unaware that some forms of social networking, such as smart phones, can inadvertently provide a form of monitoring, for example, by revealing the user's location.
- Reduces face to face communication: electronic communication can be less subtle than talking face to face and line managers may not be able to get to the root of problems relating to sickness absence, for example, if communication is via email.
The way forward
- Develop a policy on use of social media while at work. Every organisation will have different rules. Some may ban personal use of internet altogether, other may allow 'reasonable use' at the discretion of a line manager. It may be helpful to set some guidelines: for example, personal use of social media is permitted during tea breaks and lunch periods. Consult your employee or union representatives when drawing up a policy (see the guide on 'How to develop a policy'). Be aware that this is a rapidly changing area and policies may have to be updated on a regular basis .
- Educate employees of the risks of using VDUs and IT equipment. Although many people's social and domestic lives revolve around the use of social media - everything from booking concert tickets to paying bills - this does not constitute having a break from computer screens (many organisations recommend ten minutes away from a screen for every hour worked). The Health and Safety Executive has guidance on the use of VDU equipment.
- Give line managers guidelines on remote/home-working. Common sense suggests that managers will often focus on end-products rather than managing the time too closely. However, the basic rules of effective performance management still apply, for example holding regular performance reviews and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with all staff.
- Induction: use the first few weeks of employment to establish your acceptable standards of behaviour and spell out the dangers of using company facilities for personal use - in terms of the impact on productivity and the extra pressure it puts on the team.
- Links to disciplinary procedures. Be clear about what behaviour will be monitored and what disciplinary sanctions may be triggered - for example, if someone is off sick but colleagues report seeing pictures online of them out socialising.
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