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Turning social media from a bane to a boon in the workplace

Rarely a week goes by without a news story highlighting the potential risks of social media. The stories that hit the headlines typically concern individuals who misuse social media sites at work or run into trouble because of something they've said or shared online. But what about the risks to employers - and the less sensational but equally important issue of how social media is used in the workplace?

From recruitment to managing how employees use email, social media and mobile phones at work, there are many factors for employers to consider when defining their policies.

Employers may view social media as a goldmine of free and easy information on job applicants. Profiles, pictures and status updates can offer rich insights into a candidate's life, loves and opinions. But using social media in the recruitment process can be risky. Social media is not used by everyone, so if you only advertise jobs on social media sites and use those sites to assess candidates, you could be accused of social exclusion. And if employers scan candidates' social media profiles they must be careful not to exclude any individual on the basis of information they learn from candidates' online activity, such as their age, sex, disability, race, marriage, religion, belief or sexual orientation or because of any other protected characteristic. Doing so may be considered discrimination.

Regulating the social-media activity of existing employees, who may want to keep up in real time with their friends and family on sites like Twitter and Facebook, is equally vital, and the first step is to create a clear policy that defines your expectations of employees' behaviour.

Other policies may need to be updated to reflect the popularity of social media, such as bullying and harrassment policies. Online bullying is a significant problem, and your policies should define how you tackle such issues. Your grievance policy should also explain what constitutes misconduct with regard to use of email, mobile phones and social media sites.

Employees should be encouraged to use social media wisely, for example, by considering all of their potential audiences before sharing material, and hiding any content that may not be appropriate for across-the-board consumption.

Although employers are naturally concerned about 'time theft' and factors that distract or hinder employees from dealing with their allotted tasks effectively, social media has so many advantages in terms of speed and ease of communication that trying to keep it separate from the workplace is likely to be both impractical and counter-productive. When employees can set up meetings while waiting to catch a bus, not just once they're at their desk, or know that it's safe to send their child to school during severe weather because they can keep an eye out for updates on Twitter, careful management can turn the double-edged sword that is social media to everyone's advantage.

Acas has a range of training relating to Social media in the workplace. It also offers extensive guidance on Social media in the workplace.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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