Originally posted by United Benefits Advisors, LLC (UBA).
Earlier this year, a nurse at New York Presbyterian hospital posted a photo on Instagram. The photo did not show any people, but captured the image of an ER trauma room after being used to treat a man hit by a subway train. The nurse, a seven-year ER veteran at the hospital, was subsequently fired. According to the nurse, she was not fired for breaching hospital policy, nor did she violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); she was fired for being insensitive.
Knowing this, how should employers handle social media in the workplace? Regardless of how company executives or HR personnel feel about this topic, we all live in a world that is now practically ruled by social media. Its popularity has skyrocketed in recent years and the influence of social media is growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, almost every major company in the United States uses social media for business purposes. Recruiters are even using social media as part of their hiring process by tweeting job openings or looking for more information about candidates on LinkedIn or Facebook.

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It seems, however, that while social media usage is surging among employees, access to this at work is actually decreasing by way of companies blocking access. This is not surprising given that employees can post negative comments about their employer or other coworkers. However, an article on Workforce.com argues that companies are fighting a losing battle. If an employee wants to access social media while at work, yet the site is blocked by the employer, all that employee needs to do is take out his or her mobile phone. Assuming that companies want to retain top talent, blocking access to social media is probably not a good idea. Most employees benefit from taking a short break, so instead of cutting out social media altogether, a company should establish clear guidelines for what is considered acceptable to post as well as how much time can be spent.

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Social media guidelines should always be evolving to keep up with the latest trends and sites, but they should also be absolutely unambiguous and straightforward. An employee should know what is allowed both inside and outside the office. A great way to emphasize the boundaries is to train employees and managers about the power of social media and how best to use it so as to avoid any problems. A simple tip to remember is that anything said online can easily impact a person’s career and reputation, so be professional.

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Employers need to be vigilant not only of what is posted by their employees, but whether break time is being abused by employees constantly on social media sites. There is a fine line between job productivity and distraction and HR executives need to determine whether short, unscheduled breaks are okay. If employees are routinely putting in 50-plus hours at work, is it really so bad if they spend a few minutes each day on social media? It actually might do more harm to morale by instituting a draconian policy. Social media in the workplace is not about technology, but about performance and productivity. Trying to solve an issue involving an employee’s lack of performance via technological solutions probably won’t work. Any employee spending too much time on social media should be appropriately disciplined, counseled, or warned rather than attempting to turn it off for everyone.