News Focus, People Management All of People Management – People Management Magazine Online, January 2012, reported that several HR speakers at the CIPD’s Social Media Conference advised against having a policy for social media because it’s an unrealistic attempt to control staff and displays a lack of trust.  One speaker, Neil Morrison, went on to say that “maintaining productivity was the single most stupid argument for trying to restrict social media, as people have their own preferred ways of accessing information, and that good management was the key”.  However, with due respect, I think he’s missing a large chunk of the point.

There’s no doubt that trust and good management are hugely influential in getting the best from employees in any organisation.  However, equally important is clarity about what is expected from employees, how they are expected to conduct themselves and the levels of performance or productivity expected from them while at work.  On a pessimist’s note, what is at least as crucial here are the expectations of the Employment Tribunals.

If we agree with Mr Morrison’s recommendation, it begs the question, why do we need any policies.  A laudable and aspirational ideal and perhaps an interesting study in how best to manage people, but in the real world of work things do go wrong.  For example, do we really need a policy for diversity and equal opportunities or a policy for time and attendance at work?  On the Morrison principle we should be able to trust our staff not to do the wrong thing there too. I could quite see an argument that the more overt the misbehaviour the less that employees should need to be told about it.  On that basis, lists in disciplinary procedures of matters constituting gross misconduct should not really be necessary.  On those principles, though, it is precisely the issues which the employee has least reason to regard as a problem (like use of social media sites) which require legislation by the employer.  Morrison also says, quite rightly, that “the tiny minority of people who are doing to misuse social media and so something silly are going to do it anyway”.  Agreed, but you would then have to rely on the Tribunal taking the same view.  Where the misuse is marginal, the existence of a clear policy will unquestionably help the employer to defend any claim.

Good policies provide a basis for good practice in the workplace and employees who are comfortable that they know their boundaries and can get on with their jobs.  I agree that a draconian approach to employment policies can have a negative impact on employee relations.  You wouldn’t want to promote the disciplinary and grievance policies on the front page of your employee handbook, just below the “Welcome to your new employer” but policies can easily be presented and implemented in a positive form that reassures employees that they work for an enlightened and progressive employer.  This would include what is and is not appropriate use of social media since this can be presented as a positive, for example using Facebook or LinkedIn for networking, using Twitter as a business development tool or using appropriate websites for research.  However, having no policy or guidelines at all is an unnecessary risk.