Social Media and the Workplace: Say What?

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I read this article by Steven Greenhouse on the New York Times Business page. In this piece he is explaining that we are in a whole new world of employee interactions due to the rulings of the National Labor Relations Board to overturn some punitive employer actions based on employee social media posts in the recent past.

“Many view social media as the new water cooler,” said Mark G. Pearce, the board’s chairman, noting that federal law has long protected the right of employees to discuss work-related matters. “All we’re doing is applying traditional rules to a new technology.”

Posts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are now more palatable and companies cannot take a universally hard-line stance on employees who blow off a little online steam without compromising company financials or secrets.

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I have mixed emotions about this article. On the one hand, I think that it is every American’s right to exercise their free speech and emote with others of a like-mind. As long as there are no avenues to bully the persons or people who are causing you corporate turmoil, than you should be able to chat, post and interact to a certain point.

On the other hand, as noted in Spiderman (the movie): With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility. Employees now have access to the most influential “Bully Pulpit” ever seen in history. One person can load a post and in the span of seconds to a few minutes can reach thousands of people with whatever information they would like to expound. If you take the time to build a cadre of connections on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, you can do amazing damage to an individual or a company in the blink of an eye.

“The labor board’s rulings, which apply to virtually all private sector employers, generally tell companies that it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies — like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer — if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.

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What is the answer?

1. Companies should look deeply into their corporate culture soul and see where there might be problems. If there is a high turnover rate, than find out the reasons why. Retention and advancement through the ranks will build corporate loyalty. A path to success is one that employees will relish with their loyalty. You give to them and they will give back in years of service.

2. To stave off any employee turning a blog post, tweet or Facebook post into Waterloo, look at those companies that are in the “Best Places to Work” listings and find out what makes them tick. Implement whatever they are doing in your own corporate structure. Build a bridge to your employees and pave it with good intentions that are for real.

3. Listen to your employees when they voice concerns. The worst thing you can do as a corporate structure is turn a deaf ear to your internal staff. If you are not listening to them, then maybe someone on Facebook will and your sales and productivity will suffer if enough ex-employees are out in the field trashing your products and company.

“Denise M. Keyser, a labor lawyer who advises many companies, said employers should adopt social media policies that are specific rather than impose across-the-board prohibitions.”

Employees will walk through walls for employers if they know there is some loyalty and sincerity behind the “company-speak” they receive at meetings.

“Do not just tell workers not to post confidential information, Ms. Keyser said. Instead, tell them not to disclose, for example, trade secrets, product introduction dates or private health details.

But placing clear limits on social media posts without crossing the legal line remains difficult, said Steven M. Swirsky, another labor lawyer. “Even when you review the N.L.R.B. rules and think you’re following the mandates,” he said, “there’s still a good deal of uncertainty.””

Good Karma will always win out in the end. Do right by your staff, and they will do right by you!

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