Although surveys clearly show that workers in the United States and Great Britain spend a significant amount of time on social networking sites, workers have faced distractions before. The Windows games Solitaire and Minesweeper were once the bane of many an office manager. Like social networking sites, both were considered quite addictive diversions. But while the fears about wasted time and lost productivity might sound familiar, social networking sites present other new concerns, namely computer safety and privacy.
Despite the privacy features offered by many social networking sites, some people don’t take advantage of them, and even for those that do, information often manages to leak out. Numerous stories exist about people losing their jobs or being denied employment for information posted online, sharing inappropriate photos or criticizing a boss in a Facebook group. The bleeding together of work and free time likely doesn’t help. People may put information in their “work” social-network profile that belongs in a more personal profile. Some sites, like Facebook, allow you to show a limited profile to certain people, helping to make that distinction more clear.
While the information that someone posts in an online profile can seem innocuous, it can pose a serious risk of identity theft. Birthdays, so often posted online to remind friends, are sometimes used to recover forgotten passwords or to confirm someone’s identity with a financial institution. Remaining selective in what information is posted and using the privacy features offered by social networking sites helps to reduce the risk of identity theft.
Though some companies have embraced social networks as a business tool, it can be difficult to confirm that someone is who they claim to be online. At the very least, companies attempting to do business or make contacts through social networks risk opening themselves up to spam and virus-laden attachments.
In August 2007, the Trades Union Congress, a British federation of unions, said that “employers need to face up to the age of Facebook” [source: TUC]. The TUC claims that a complete ban on social networking sites is heavy-handed, while explicitly stated company policies can help curb use of social networking sites. Clearly articulated guidelines and consequences for excessive use would, the TUC claims, create a more comfortable work environment.
It seems many companies, if not embracing social networking sites as a team-building tool, have taken up the TUC view. Deloitte, a major consulting firm, has all of its employees on Facebook. Other companies are following suit while also educating their workers of the dangers that can come with fraternizing online.
For more information about social networking sites and the workplace, please check out the links on the next page.