Social Media for Managers: A blessing or a curse?

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Isn’t it nice to get a friend request or a new follower on social media? Old friends and acquaintances from way back reappear in your life and catching up with them is (usually) a pleasure! But when social media connections include co-workers over whom you may have management or leadership responsibilities (now or in the future) there are some important factors to consider.

Through a recent study of line managers and HR managers in both private and public organisations, we have seen that social media as a space for the management and leadership of the flexible workforce is increasing in importance. While such studies often stress the power enacted by management at the expense of employees, our research identified a more nuanced picture. Although social media is a handy tool when it comes to communicating with employees, for the manager a number of complications emerge. In this blog I highlight three important areas where managers should think carefully when social media and the workplace come together.

1)    Think before you write!

It is of course always good practice to think before you talk or write in the office! However, where an ill-considered internal email might prompt a pointed reply from the recipient or a light-hearted comment in the coffee room, the same faux pas (or indeed business secret) on social media might be shared in seconds to an audience of hundreds within and beyond your organisation, over which you have no control or recall.

Lesson: Think carefully before using social media to communicate work issues, especially when under stress. Social media messages are more likely to be shared instinctively, highlighting any ill-considered communication to a large network at the touch of a button. Perhaps in some cases email is more appropriate; recipients are far more likely to have a ’workplace’ mindset when reading the information and deciding next steps.   

 

2)    Social media never closes

 

Many workplaces have office hours – but social media doesn´t! Good managers are often seen to have an ’open-door’ policy meaning team members can approach them as required to discuss what is on their mind. Traditionally this was restricted to office hours, but managers we interviewed in our recent study highlighted instances of receiving messages overnight or on vacation where they felt pressure to be ’good bosses’ and provide a response.

 

Lesson: It is important that managers discuss with workers their expectations and preferences around their use of social media, perhaps suggesting that they will only use it sparingly for urgent work-related issues.

 

3)    Where is everyone?

 

When you meet co-workers in the coffee room or at an after-work social event, you know where everyone is. If someone, or everyone, decide to move somewhere else, you will naturally see that the room is empty. However, when employees are present ’virtually’ on social media, people move without you noticing. They can move to, and engage in, another virtual space, located in another physical space.

 

This gives rise to two somewhat contradictory issues.

 

Firstly, when interactions take place virtually, managers can often have no idea who else may be involved, or in what physical location team members are positioned. As such, confidentiality breaches are far more likely to happen. In our study, managers identified a situation where clients had been invited, by co-workers, to participate in the interactive space without their knowledge.

 

Secondly, in contrast, sometimes knowing where employees are out of hours can be problematic. Social media posts can reveal the leisure time habits of co-workers, potentially imparting knowledge of a sensitive nature providing a level of information that the manager feels uncomfortable with.

Lesson: It is important that managers are trained in the possible pitfalls of social media connection with their teams. The complications highlighted above illustrate some of the unintended consequences of using the channel about which managers should be forewarned to protect themselves and their organisation.