How to Manage Excessive Employee Social Media Use at Work

By Bruce Horovitz July 24, 2023

​Just in case you thought your employees—including those in the HR department—are working diligently for 40 hours each week, new data indicates that time spent on social media during work hours is cutting the typical employee's workday in half.

These findings pose an important question: What role, if any, should HR play in limiting personal social media use in the workplace?

In a new survey from Monster Worldwide, 48 percent of U.S. employees said they spend up to four hours each day on social media for personal use during work hours. In addition, half of all workers preferred that their employers not follow them on social media, and 22 percent said they were actually afraid of their employers finding their personal social media accounts. In addition, roughly 56 percent of employees said it's unethical for employers to scan or scroll through their social media accounts, except for work-related sites such as LinkedIn.

Where does this leave HR professionals who are trying to figure out how to enforce their company's social media policy—assuming they even have one? For that matter, what limits should your policy place on personal social media use in the workplace, and how should HR disseminate and monitor those limits? 

The answers aren't simple and tend to vary by organization, often depending on its size, said Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster in Weston, Mass. However, she emphasized that the key first step is not to ignore the problem.

Workplace culture is probably the most important element to consider, Salemi said. To make company culture crystal-clear to all workers, it's smart to discuss the issue of social media use in team meetings. People managers also should arrange for employee working groups from each department to discuss the specifics of social media use. The input from these groups can be used to set policies so that all employees feel involved.

Salemi also advised HR to specifically ask employees in surveys why they feel the need to spend time during work on social media. The goal is to find out whether employees are bored with their jobs and if there are specific opportunities the company could offer to keep them more engaged, she said.

Once this research is complete, proactively providing guidance on the company's social media use policy is the next step for HR to take, said Nathan Deily, chief people officer and co-founder of nth Venture, a venture incubator in Corpus Christi, Texas. The company's HR department should be "joined at the hip" with the communications department to make sure the policy is logical and enforceable given current social media trends and behaviors, he said.

When social media guidelines are finally announced, HR should conduct thorough training sessions to educate employees about them. "It's crucial to ensure that employees understand their responsibilities, potential risks and the impact of their online actions on the company's reputation," said Mika Turner, vice president of HR at InnovateMR, a market research firm in Calabasas, Calif.

Focus on Employee Engagement

Excessive social media use by employees is probably a clear sign that engagement isn't what it should be, said Yuri Kruman, CEO and interim CHRO at HR, Talent & Systems in New York City. This is where HR needs to step in and make sure that workers have the tools and training to properly do their jobs, he said. It's OK to ask employees, "What can we do better?"

Spending too much time on social media at work is also a sign of boredom, said Mari Smith, a social media thought leader in Ashland, Ore. "If someone is enjoying their job and in the right role, they wouldn't feel like they had so much free time to check social media," she explained.

It's important for HR departments to understand what draws employees to social media and why so they can help improve employee engagement, Smith said. To achieve this, the entire HR team should have basic social media training to understand the nuances of various platforms, from Facebook and TikTok to Instagram and Snapchat.

Is Employee Monitoring Necessary?

There is no good reason to constantly monitor the social media postings of all employees, Deily said. "If what they are posting is not work-related, the company shouldn't care—unless they're not getting their jobs done," he explained.

On one side, employees will quickly figure out if you're spying on their social media, and it will destroy your company culture, he said. On the other side, "[e]mployers don't want to be monitoring employee behavior all the time. I certainly don't," Deily added. Instead, he encourages employees to promote good things their company is doing on their own social media accounts.

Of course, that can get tricky, especially when employees badmouth their own companies on social media. Generally, "tracking an employee's personal social media use without a justifiable business reason may infringe upon their privacy rights," Turner said. However, she added, "Suppose an employee's actions on social media directly impact the company reputation or breach established guidelines?" In that case, HR may have a legitimate reason to investigate and address the issue.

Employers should keep in mind that some employee social media activity is protected under the National Labor Relations Act, whether employees are represented by a union or not. "Using social media can be a form of protected concerted activity," according to the National Labor Relations Board's website. Employees have the right to address work-related issues and share information about pay, benefits and working conditions with co-workers on social media, as part of efforts to initiate group action or bring a group complaint to the attention of management. Such activity is not protected if the speech is "egregiously offensive or knowingly and deliberately false," or if it disparages the employer's products or services "without relating [the] complaints to any labor controversy," the website explains.

To be sure, few practices turn off employees more than knowing that their employer is following them on social media, Kruman said. For larger companies in particular, monitoring has to be handled on a case-by-case basis. What employees post should probably stay private unless it is illegal, egregious or reflects poorly on the company, he explained.

Smith said that ultimately, anything an employee posts publicly on social media is "fair game" for employers to review. "My recommendation is that employees stay 'private' on social media and keep it locked down so only their real friends can see their posts," she said. "Public means public, and that includes with your employer or future employer."

Bruce Horovitz is a freelance writer based in Virginia.



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SHRM's Employee Engagement Survey service focuses on more than 50 aspects of job satisfaction and engagement commonly linked to performance.

SHRM's Employee Engagement Survey service focuses on more than 50 aspects of job satisfaction and engagement commonly linked to performance.



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