S.C. Bans State Employees from Using Social Media at Work

HR says ban could hurt state’s ability to recruit employees

By Aliah D. Wright Feb 5, 2015
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Employees of the state of South Carolina will have to say goodbye to Facebook this summer—at least while they’re at work.

The ban on state employees using social media at work, which may be the first of its kind for a state in the U.S., is part of South Carolina’s new code of conduct for its employees.

The code says “unless specifically required by the agency to perform a job function, you may not use social media, including but not limited to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, while on duty or through the use of state resources or equipment,” The State newspaper reported.

According to the article, the new rules do not address the penalty for violations.

HR professionals contacted by SHRM Online via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, telephone and e-mail said they thought the ban was “ridiculous,” “archaic” and “random.” They also questioned how it would be enforced on personal devices.

In a 2014 report, the Pew Research Center revealed that 74 percent of adults use social networking sites; 52 percent use two or more. The recently released results of Proskauer’s Social Media in the Workplace Around the World 3.0 survey found that 43 percent of respondents allow all employees to access social media sites at work. The international law firm’s study also revealed that nearly 80 percent of businesses worldwide have social media policies. Those policies typically outline acceptable social media use, which can curb abuses.

Recent studies show that Internet access actually increases productivity.

“There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that instead of adopting uncritically popular views of digital connectivity as something disruptive, organizations should instead investigate further,” said Warwick Business School professor Joe Nandhakumar, in an article on the school’s website. He teaches information systems at the school in Great Britain. “We found that the ubiquitous digital connectivity altered workers’ sense of ‘presence’ and helped rather than hindered the effective completion of collective tasks,” he said.

HR Finds Ban Puzzling

“This new code of conduct policy has been formulated to ensure that employees are not using state resources on personal endeavors,” said Robin Schooling, SHRM-SCP, echoing the sentiments of most HR professionals who spoke to SHRM Online about this topic. “This is commonly put in place at governmental entities to demonstrate to constituents and taxpayers that state funds—in this case ‘work time’—are being spent appropriately.” Schooling is an HR strategist at Silver Zebras, a consultancy.

But “this is a misdirected, misinformed and archaic manner in which to address productivity at work,” she told SHRM Online. “In organizations the world over … individuals use social media to gather information, research topics, learn on the fly and communicate with their colleagues in order to work more effectively.”

Policing the Ban

Some HR professionals questioned how the ban would be enforced.

“Their heart was probably in the right place—restoring confidence in government,” said HR consultant Victorio Milian, during a telephone interview with SHRM Online. “But the way they’re trying to execute that intention is totally misguided. How are you going to enforce it? You can have all these robust filters on your government-owned PCs and laptops, but anybody with a smartphone can still access their social media and other accounts. It’s kind of like a gesture with no teeth.” Milian works at Humareso, a Philadelphia-based HR consultancy.

Eric B. Meyer, a Philadelphia-based attorney with Dilworth Paxson LLP, said, “Enforcement may prove difficult for the state, especially with employee use of personal smartphones and tablets.” He is chair of the firm’s social media practice group.

“There may be reasons (e.g., security, privacy/confidentiality concerns) to limit access to social media in particular workplaces. Here, the articulated reason is to curtail waste of state resources. Unless there is a blanket ban on all nonwork-related computer use, which the state of South Carolina actually enforces, then cherry-picking social media is both incongruent and random,” Meyer said.

Ban May Hurt Recruiting

Robindro Ullah, head of employer branding and HR communication for Voith in Heidenheim, Germany, called the ban “ridiculous.”

“It’s like going swimming in the rain with an umbrella and hoping not to get wet. You might avoid the rain, but the water is all around you anyhow. It is a poor approach of trying to control something that is not controllable,” he said.

Voith, a German mechanical engineering firm, uses the six-second video platform Vine for recruitment. Ullah told SHRM Online that the company has had phenomenal success using the social media platform—particularly among younger candidates.

He and other HR professionals said South Carolina’s social media ban may hurt its ability to recruit Millennials.

According to the results of the 2014 Deloitte Millennial Survey, young adults “are already emerging as leaders in technology and other industries and will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025.” Members of this generation also want to work for organizations that believe in fostering innovation.

“To attract and retain talent, [a] business needs to show Millennials it is innovative and in tune with their world-view,” Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited CEO Barry Salzberg stated in the Deloitte survey. A big part of their worldview, experts say, includes being able to access social media for both professional and personal use—24 hours a day.

Said Ullah: “For many Millennials, [the ban] might be a deal breaker. I mean, just imagine what kind of [organization] that would be. What kind of culture do they have? Do they still print their e-mails? Are they trying to hide or conceal something? A lot of questions arise when you hear something like that. And believe me, even if you have reasonable answers, your image will be damaged.”

The ban goes into effect in July.

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM and author of “A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn … and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites (SHRM, 2013).

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