Social Media: Can HR manage it?

The wrap-up of my Maine Human Resources Convention  2012 occurred during Wednesday’s 3:00 pm workshop in the Keynote Ballroom. The topic, “Social Media in the Life Cycle of the Employment Relationship.”

Four attorneys from Bernstein Shur delivered one of the most important workshops taking place during the entire conference, yet there were probably only 100 people present in a room that holds more than 500. This didn’t surprise me because as a group, the Maine Human Resources community is poorly positioned relative to social media. I offer this insight, not to criticize, but to raise awareness and to try to raise a red flag about an issue that is only going to grow in importance for them, both from a compliance standpoint, but maybe more important,  in the context of how it is changing the culture of work. As the old-timers are want to say, “the horse has already left the barn” on that one.

I’m sure the proposition of a panel of four lawyers, talking about issues related to compliance and risk wasn’t the first choice for many, when signing up back in January. Especially since many attendees probably welcome this yearly conference as a few days away from the stress of balancing personnel issues and compliance back home. Still, in my opinion, this was an important panel.

I’m glad I made a last minute “switch”; I was signed up for a session on HR skill-building, but I decided to alter my schedule (don’t tell Bud and Heather). I did this mainly because on Friday, I’m delivering a training session on social media to a group of nonprofit leaders and board members, as well as working with this organization in crafting and implementing  a social media policy.

Here a few tidbits I learned out of the gate from counselors Lori Dwyer, Pat Peard, Kai McGintee, and Ron Schneider.

  • Studies indicate that 40 percent of employers use social media for pre-employment screening.
  • One third of employment managers base employee hiring practices on negative/harmful material being posted via social media. The example given: posting something about drunk driving on Facebook and an employer not wanting to hire them due to possible liability issues.
  • There are still employers attempting to acquire social media login and password info as a prerequisite for employment; there is currently legislation being enacted to prevent this.

The entire landscape regarding social media is pocked with potential landmines for HR professionals, especially on the risk and compliance side; maybe just as important, however–how is social media changing your culture and affecting your productivity as a firm or organization? An additional question I have, given the lack of engagement that I witnessed with a microblogging platform like Twitter over two days of actively engaging with the 800+ participants; how are you going to manage something that you seem to have less sophistication about than most employees? To me that might be the bigger problem for HR.

It’s not just about Twitter usage, either. With every other attendee sporting the latest iPhone, or lugging around an iPad, certainly with tools more technologically sophisticated than my two-year-old BlackBerry, I was amazed by the lack of social media concentration via Linkedin or Facebook. I have a great comparison, also, given that I was at a conference for librarians two weeks ago. Let me just say that librarians are way more tech savvy and engaged via Twitter and social media in general than the Maine HR community. I gained 30 new Twitter followers at the conference in Arlington, VA, over a two-day span. At The Samoset, I had one net Twitter follower.

I thought the panelists did a very good job in their time and given the broad scope of their subject of laying out the ramifications from the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and social media, particularly Section 7 of the act. Basically, a new definition is being crafted around what’s private and what’s not, relative to social media.

Because I’m posting this quickly, and because I’m trying to be as brief as I can be given the importance of the topic, here is Section 7 in a condensed thumbnail:

Here is a link to a quick primer on the NLRA, but keep in mind that it related to terms and conditions of employment, including job performance and staffing levels, etc.

-Employees have the right to self-organization…

-Employees have the right to…to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection… (“concerted” is a key word in this section)

The NLRA applies to protected/concerted activity.

-Activity must be undertaken by two or more employees

-Extremely broad

-Arises out of a group discussion

The NLRA protects against actions that could “chill” the exercise of Section 7 rights>>>>>if you have an overly broad policy, this can be construed as “touching” the concerns of section 7.

Here is where I’m seeing a big problem. Organizations, in an attempt to get a handle and gain control over employee use of social media, are developing and enacting policies that are overly broad and potentially could cause them to end up on the wrong side of the NLRA, particularly when it comes to social media and the use of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and other social media platforms.

A few other highlights from yesterday’s worthwhile panel­-

-Employers should have proprietary language regarding social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and others.

-The need to understand the new definition about what’s private.

The National Labor Relations Board, via the NLRA, has taken an active role (union/non-union) regarding social media. They are taking the “world of the water cooler” and applying it to the social media world.

-There is a now great deal of leeway about what an employee can say about your supervisor/manager and not be prosecuted.

There are “protections” for employers under the NLRA’s section 7; anything deemed “opprobrious,” egregious, or flagrant can cause employees to lose protections under the act.

Here’s what employers should be doing-

  • All employers should be implementing a social media use policy.
  • Enforce all policies consistently, not just your social media policy.
  • Train supervisors and employees on social media use and workplace policies.
  • Understand legal risks as they intersect with technology.

Look at handbook for all things relative to Section 7 rights-

-Non-disclosure/Confidentiality Policy

-Electronic communications policy

-Workplace behavior policy–e.g. treatment of insubordination, unprofessional conduct, disparagement (this should be fairly broad)

-Social media use policy

It is really important to sync all of these policies in relation to company’s values/goals.

Given the rise of Web 2.0 and social media, it’s nearly impossible to prohibit the use of social media, even on company time. More important, it’s better to look at productivity issues and policing of that rather than running afoul of section 7 of NLRA.

Beware of the “adjectives” in your policy.

I loved Ron Schneider’s comment at the end, which I tweeted it was so good:

“Social media is the uber-Oprah-zation of the world,” where all things become personal.

If you are in HR, you need to figure out social media (quickly!!)  as a user. Get some training and bring someone in to help your leadership learn how to use it–treat it as something with value and worth embracing–not something to fear and prohibit. Get out in front on this.

Disclaimer: All social media policies and their implementation should be vetted by your organization’s legal department or firm you use for those purposes.