In defense of Big Brother
Recent news headlines have been littered with examples of private and public sector employees losing their jobs over the indiscriminate use of company technology, or participation in endeavors deemed inappropriate while off the job.
Think of SEC employees surfing for porn while on the job, a police SWAT officer engaging in sexually explicit email correspondence on his company Blackberry, and a well-known Geico spokesman making inappropriate comments while calling-in to a radio talk show.
So here's the conundrum: As a leader attempting to build a friendly, cohesive & performance oriented culture, how do you instill corporate accountability, ethical work practices and safeguard the corporate brand without your employees feeling like Big Brother is getting even bigger?
Long gone are the days when a boss's biggest fear was that an employee might make a personal phone call during working hours. With the burgeoning use of social media sites like, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, etc., the lines between an employee's work life and private life have become fuzzy at best. Corporate executives and entrepreneurs have little choice these days about the need to aggressively monitor of all forms of digital communications resulting in an employee's personal life and opinions becoming subject to scrutiny.
These trends beg the question of where, if at all, does an employer's right to information infringe upon an employee's right to privacy? Does an employee's private opinion expressed in a personal blog have anything to do with company business? What about a video that's uploaded to the web which captures an employee participating in some form of over-enthusiastic after-hours celebration? Do you ever wonder if personal emails, voicemails or text messages sent by employees will come back to haunt you? If you've been paying attention to the news lately, you know that all the issues noted in the questions above have resulted in corporate brand being damaged and employees' losing their jobs.
This is more than just a human resources issue -- it's a leadership issue. Leaders who don't create the right culture, who don't instill a sense of pride in the corporate brand, and who don't clearly communicate the corporate values & vision to all employees are going to have issues regardless of what HR does or does not do. Your obligation as a leader is to model appropriate behavior and create a culture where everyone views themselves as guardians of the corporate brand. You goal as a leader is to have your employees use technology to leverage brand equity and not taint it.
So why does an employer need to have so much access to the personal information of its employees? The answer is simple: An employee is a direct representative of the company, and his or her actions, either on or off the job, are a direct reflection on the employer's brand, reputation, and image in the marketplace. Companies are in reality most frequently judged upon the quality, integrity, and character of their employees.
Unless the employer crosses a clear legal boundary, all is fair in the employer's pursuit of the protection of the corporate brand. Requiring drug tests, recording phone conversations, monitoring e-mail, web browsing habits, social media activity, and information stored on company computers are perfectly acceptable measures for an employer to take in safeguarding the reputation and security of the enterprise.
As a leader it is your responsibility to insure that employees understand the corporate values and what constitutes unacceptable behavior. These areas should be clearly addressed in employee handbooks (all handbooks should have a written communications and social media policy), job descriptions and employment agreements, which the employee must read and sign before starting work. These documents should clearly outline company practices, procedures and processes.
All employees should have very clear visibility with respect to company expectations before they ever show-up for their first day of work. Moreover, leaders should ensure these expectations are consistently reinforced in day-to-day operating behaviors, training programs, and development plans. If corporate leadership has the right systems in place, employees should be well informed as to company practices, and have the ability to make an informed decision with respect to whether or not they desire to comply with those policies.
Executives need to lead by example. Companies who are not social media savvy and leaders who do not engage in social media are at the greatest risk for having employees running amok in cyberspace. If your employees know that company leadership is active on the same platforms they are, they will be far less likely to wander astray.
The bottom line is leaders need to clearly communicate the brand vision, actively engage in social media, and use a values based approach to hiring. Leaders who model appropriate behavior, who are up front about corporate values, and who clearly communicate employee expectations & responsibilities will find fewer conflicts to resolve and disputes to arbitrate.
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Posted by: citizen625 | May 17, 2010 9:01 AM
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