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Website URL : http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3434

Cyber plan to save business billions

Thursday 01 September 2011

The first guide is launched today to help Britain get to grips with a cyber problem estimated to cost the country billions of pounds every year.

Employment relations expert Acas has drawn it up to help businesses, staff and trade unions agree how to handle the use of the internet, blogs and social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter inside and outside of work.

Logging on to social media has rocketed in the last ten years, with almost six out of ten staff (55%) now using it at work, either on computers or mobile phones. But employers say many staff are also abusing it by looking at their personal web pages instead of working, posting derogatory comments about managers and colleagues, or buying and selling online.

Most employers are unclear how to manage this aspect of the digital revolution. A few, such as BT and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, have issued their own policies, but research has found that fewer than one in ten employers have a social media policy. Acas's guide is believed to be the first offering advice to all employers.

Most employees, too, are confused over when, where and how they can use social media in and away from work.

Acas's main recommendation is that an employer should consult with staff and trade unions to spell out the dos and don'ts of using the internet and social media, and should also make clear the consequences of breaching its policy, which should become part of contracts of employment.

It stresses that in working out a policy, employer, staff and unions should agree so employees do not feel gagged, staff and managers feel protected against online bullying, and the firm feels confident its reputation will be guarded.

Acas Chief Executive John Taylor said:

    "Online conduct should not differ from offline conduct. Employees should assume 
    that everything they say on the internet could be made public, and should think 
    whether they want their colleagues or boss to read it. They might not mean it, 
    but what they post could end up being seen by billions of people worldwide."

Acas also says it is vital employers, employees and unions keep up to date to review a company's internet and social media policy because the technology and its use are evolving fast. And the issues have yet to be really tested in law.

Bosses are also advised to carefully assess the potential harm from an employee stepping out of line on social media before deciding how they will react. Mr Taylor said: 
    
    "If an employer is too tough, it needs to consider the potential impact of any 
    negative publicity."

And if bosses check on employees' use of the internet and social media, they must make it clear what they scrutinize and why. Mr Taylor said: 
    
    "Heavy-handed monitoring can cause bad feeling and be time consuming.

    A manager wouldn't follow an employee down the pub to check on what he or 
    she said to friends about their day at work. Just because they can do something 
    like this online, doesn't mean they should."

    "Importantly, many companies want their employees to be up to date and 
    comfortable with internet working, as social media sites are increasingly a key 
    part of business and marketing. Firms need to bear this in mind."

Go to http://www.acas.org.uk/socialnetworking for more details on Acas's guidance including practical tips for employers.

Read the factfile

Notes for editors

  1. Acas is an independent and impartial statutory body governed by a council made up of members from business, trade unions, academia and the law. It aims to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It was founded in 1975.
  2. Acas provides up-to-date information, independent advice and training. It also works with employers and employees to solve problems, avoid damaging and costly disputes, improve performance and make working life more rewarding and less stressful for managers and employees.
  3. Acas's guide on handling the internet and social media in the workplace draws from a range of evidence including new research by the Institute for Employment Studies, the UK's leading independent centre for research into employment issues. The special report, which includes case studies about BT and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, was commissioned and funded by Acas.
  4. The IES report puts forward nine recommendations for employers which Acas has used in formulating its guidance.
  5. Go to http://www.acas.org.uk/researchpapers to see the report from the Institute for Employment Studies.
  6. A study by www.MyJobGroup.co.uk, a network of more than 300 jobsites across the UK, reported in August, 2010, that misuse of the internet and social media by employees is estimated to cost the UK economy up to £14billion a year. This figure is cited in Acas's guidance as a measure of the scale of the issue in and outside the workplace.
  7. The same study by MyJobGroup found that more than half of employees questioned (55%) admitted to accessing social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace at work. This research was cited by the Institute for Employment Studies in its report.
  8. An indicator of employers' understanding of the impact of social media in the workplace came in research published in June, 2011, by Bluefin Insurance, one of the UK's top ten insurance brokers. It found that fewer than one in ten employers had a social media policy.
  9. Acas expert on social media Adrian Wakeling is available for interview. He is Managing Editor of Information and Guidance at Acas.

For media enquiries only please contact David Webb, Media and Public Relations Manager (jobshare), Acas National, on 0117 906 5249 and 07920 541 322 or dwebb@acas.org.uk.

Between September 2 and 19 please contact Cate McLaurin or Michelle Bayley, Heads of Communication, Acas National, on 0207 210 3642 or headofcomms@acas.org.uk.