Workplace privacy in the age of social transparency

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Evan Rodd, PayScale

If you’ve ever hired someone, chances are you’ve been tempted to run a quick Google search, or comb social media for additional information. This can be a good way to evaluate talent, and provide insight into a potential hire’s professional demeanor. While helpful, this new era of decreased privacy can be daunting for employees and employers alike – we want to present a professional image, and we want to hire people who present such an image. By the same token, we want to avoid that creepy feeling that comes from excessive snooping, worried that our search for misconduct could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In an age where almost every aspect of our lives is willingly documented by social media (if not, the potential is there), how do we exercise our right to free speech and self-expression while still maintaining a sense of professionalism?

Hopefully, many of us would shy away from posting defaming remarks about employers on our social media accounts, but what about various aspects of our personal lives that have nothing to do with our workplace? While social media can be overwhelming, it can also be a valuable tool for recruiters (some companies even have dedicated recruiting Twitter handles), especially given the wide range of networks available to cross check references and accomplishments. With this in mind, how much should we rely on social media when evaluating potential hires? It’s one thing if a candidate’s twitter account is aimed at recruiters, but what about others that only use social media to, well, socialize?

A recent #TChat recap entitled “The Social Workplace: Nowhere To Hide” addressed this very issue. Sitting down with founding Editor of HR Gazette Mary Wright, Chantal Bechervaise posed the question, “How can companies encourage employees to serve as brand ambassadors, while ensuring that those same individuals use appropriate discretion?”

The key takeaways encouraged executives to lead by example, and for all of us to use a little common sense when it comes to social media. Think before you Tweet, and use caution when acting as a representative of your company. Adopting a social media policy can be helpful as well, but also make sure employees feel that they are truly part of a unified company objective. The flipside of a social media disaster is an online presence that can really help with a company’s long-term recruiting efforts and employee retention.

Not all managers give into to the temptation of social media snooping, given the undeniable value of meeting potential hires face-to-face. “I prefer to get a read on candidates from interviewing them in person,” says Tim Low, VP of Marketing for PayScale. “I do think job seekers should be cognizant of the downsides of over sharing or misusing social media, but personally, I resist the impulse to stalk or snoop on candidates—other than on LinkedIn.” Mr. Low raises an excellent point – it is of course important to encourage professional online conduct from employees, but misjudging a candidate’s Facebook page could mean losing out on potential top talent. What if that tweet you interpreted as over-zealous translates to exceptional passion at work? There are always two sides to ever coin, and it’s important to remember that we are all people at the end of the day.

The dawn of a new age means the dawn of a new attitude. It is important to empower employees by clearly communicating company objectives, but to also respect employee privacy in order to eliminate online bad-mouthing. Social media is simply one carefully curated dimension of who we are and the skills we possess.

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