May 20, 2009

Bosses and Workers Disagree on Social Network Privacy - Digits - WSJ

A very interesting article on the battle between the bosses and the employees. I suspect there would be different results outside the US where privacy laws and attitudes are very different than in US firms - favoring more or less employee privacy and tolerance depending on where you go.

The survey was conducted in April with about 2,000 U.S. adults. Of the 500 respondents with managerial job titles (vice president, CIO, partner, board member, etc.), 299, or 60%, agreed that businesses have a right to know how employees portray themselves or their companies on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

But 53% of employee respondents said their profiles are none of their employers’ business, and 61% said that they wouldn’t change what they were doing online even if their boss was monitoring their activities.
It's a hard reality to consider that the boss thinks they have every right to monitor all data that you produce and perceive the employee as a liability - especially in these days of record breaking layoffs. It's true, the Internet's lowered opportunity costs for individual global self-expression poses a huge risks to companies in forms of safety, lost information, and disclosed secrets. The relationship of employer and employee becomes increasingly adversarial.

Both employer and employee play a part in solving this problem. As the article points out in a quote by Sharon Allen, rather than draconian rules, employers should communicate "guidelines focused on company principles and ethical behavior, and to offer to help workers understand privacy settings on these sites." Yet, according to the Deloitte survey, "roughly a quarter (26%) of employees said they knew of specific guidelines as to what they could and couldn’t post."

Employees aren't off the hook either and need to recognize that usage policies are conditions of employment and should be mindful to follow those guidelines. That may mean more work on the individual to make clear distinctions between what they represent about their jobs in personal social realms. Which is increasingly harder to do; as we create stronger bonds with people through channels that help us to keep in touch over time and distance the line of who's a colleague and who's a friend becomes more blurred.

Since this is all social there's plenty of nuance for conflict and mis-communication. As Ms Allen points out there is the potential conflict of employer versus employee "branding" and is open for broad interpretation. It's a fine line to walk. When so many people identify themselves with what they do for work it's very hard to separate the dos and don'ts.

Despite all the risk, keep in mind that the boss actually likes social software. The last paragraph of the article demonstrates that while employees currently find social software more burdensome, employers see a benefit:

Another difference of opinion expressed in the survey was how social networks affect work-life balance. Less than a third of employees (31%) agreed with the statement “Using social-networking sites helps me achieve better work-life balance,” with 19% strongly disagreeing. More than half (56%) of executives said a little Facebook time improves work-life, however.

Bosses and Workers Disagree on Social Network Privacy - Digits - WSJ

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