Should you share beyond the workplace? Or keep things professional?
Its tempting these days when Facebook and other social media channels are the ubiquitous ways we communicate to include your employees in all the doings of your daily life. And this might be great for team spirit, and injecting fun into the workplace. After all, few employers now think its possible or even desirable to prevent employees going on Facebook during working hours, within reason. (To help you navigate this, a free email and internet usage policy is available here)
It’s often said as well, that the youngest generation in the workforce, the so-called “millennials” expect Facebook to be part of their working as well as social life.
The downsides of social media in the workplace
But before you reach for that “add friend” icon, pause to consider what would happen if you need to discipline or fire an employee?
You might get on really well in the office, and spend time together outside of work, having drinks, lunches and socializing. But if you are managing a team, chances are at some point you will have to discipline someone and in the worst case scenario, terminate their employment. How would you feel if after sharing every detail of your lives, you have to have that difficult conversation on a Monday morning in the office?
We’ve often seen managers who are very close or even friends with their employees struggle to manage them professionally. After all, if a manager happens to know a lot about an employee’s personal situation, it’s so easy to come up with all sorts of mitigating excuses for poor performance at work. While we are not suggesting that a manager should not be sympathetic to an employee’s home life, there is a balance to be struck. It can also be incredibly unfair, not to mention potentially illegal, to other employees who are not “friends” with you, if you are treating them more stringently than your Facebook friends.
Alternative ways to bond the team
There are other options to support a team that likes to work hard and have fun. For example Air’s beautiful team directory and company calendar allows all your team to find out a bit more about each other and keep track of birthdays, anniversaries and other important company dates.
What’s next after Facebook?
Bear in mind too that Facebook, like any other technology may wane in popularity. Other channels are already evolving, and will continue in future. Right now we are seeing the emergence of an “unconnected” generation coming to the workplace, who spurn social media altogether in favour of simply hanging out together. Your Facebook group may be a small, or declining segment of your overall workforce.
Social media for team building
Assuming you think you can navigate successfully through this minefield, what are the arguments FOR friending your team? We’ve listened to strong proponents of this approach, who say it helps to build team cohesion and enables people to bring their whole selves to the office. And this undoubtedly works very well in some workplaces with an open culture. Employees can easily build relationships in the team if they know just a little about someone from their Facebook updates. And its easy to reach out to employees to update them about company team building or social events, or even, urgent messages such as office closures due to bad weather for example.
Keeping it private
Interestingly enough, at a recent workshop on this very topic, we took a straw poll of a group of younger workers which revealed subtly different attitudes. In some ways, this generation are much more traditional than the media sometimes allows. In fact, there is a trend towards keeping life away from work separate. As Tara, 22, who works in a large bank told me, “I don’t want my managers seeing me let my hair down on a Saturday night. And I certainly don’t want them seeing me as anything other than a professional. I fear they may judge me on things that are nothing to do with how I perform in my job”. And Helena, 23 added, “I may friend my peers or people at the same level as me, or who I know in my team. But I would never friend people more senior or junior to me. I just don’t want to bring my personal life to work in that way. If I am having a tough time outside of work, it’s a relief to come to work where everyone expects you to be business like. I don’t want misplaced sympathy or emotion getting in the way of me focusing on my job”.
Maybe the generations aren’t so different after all
It looks as though there isn’t that much difference between generations in the workplace. In fact, attitudes to this are influenced more by your company culture than the age of the people. We know of plenty of 23 year olds who never go on Facebook and by contrast, many over 60s who are avid users!
Whatever approach you have to Facebook, and other social media trends, remember that your employees are bound by the same rules of confidentiality and privacy and these should be clearly outlined in your contract of employment, employee handbook, and internet and email policy. Find a library of free HR policy templates here.