It’s hard for anyone working in human resources to avoid the hype around
online social networking. Employers around the country are finding that sites
such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo are hugely popular with their staff.
We’re worried that people are overreacting to the hype in several different
First, many employers have banned access to social networking sites
(particularly Facebook) from work equipment for fear of encouraging
‘cyberslacking’. It is the employer’s right to decide how their IT equipment can
and can’t be used, but we think blanket bans are unnecessary.
Those employers who allow staff to use work computers during their own break
time, for personal web use or email, should not feel this new trend changes
anything. If you can see past the hype, sites like Facebook are just another way
of using the web to organise your social life they aren’t the first way and
they won’t be the last.
Many employers have a web-use policy, making it clear to staff what is and is
not acceptable, and when. Publicising this policy properly is the best way to
ensure staff do not use the internet to waste their time on company time,
whether that’s on Facebook or anywhere else.
Second, and potentially more dangerously, some employers are sticking their
heads in the sand and refusing to consider the wider implications of social
networking. This leaves their employees without guidance on how to behave
online, and more likely to stumble into conduct that may cause them and their
employer problems that could have been avoided.
Employers have some valid concerns about the way their staff conduct their
personal lives, in case it breaches commercial confidentiality or damages the
company’s reputation. They are also concerned about the potential security risks
posed by social networking. For example, if staff identify themselves as working
for a particular employer, it may help identity fraudsters to gather information
to use against a company.
But this is part of a much wider issue and it is unfair to single out
websites. A more responsible way to handle this is for employers to negotiate a
reasonable conduct policy with employee representatives, and make it clear to
them what is expected of them in their private lives, both offline and online.
Brendan Barber is general secretary of the TUC
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