Employee Facebook profiles: Should employers have access?


Social media within the workplace is an increasingly common subject, integrating into the way businesses operate around the world. The power of social media over the past few years alone has proven a vital tool for success for businesses both big and small, helping them promote, advertise and gain access to a pool of knowledge and potential consumer database. Powerful media platforms like Facebook allow brands and businesses to directly target customers anytime and anywhere, resulting in marketing that can significantly increase sales and revenue. However, as fast as businesses can reap the rewards of social media, faster can it destroy their reputation and destroy their sales in a matter of hours.

There is no doubting the power social media activity can have on both businesses and individuals, both positive and negative and despite the possible downfalls and small costs of maintaining an online presence, many present and future businesses who fail to engage with these valuable marketing tools will be left in the dark, struggling to compete with competitors.

Social media’s such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are increasingly popular with the current younger generation, and in terms of employment and the future workforce, the advantages of individuals private information is being researched by companies and HR bodies.

A series of articles and reports published surrounding this subject, suggest that permission to access employee’s personal information through social media accounts can help HR department’s measure performance as well as reduce future sick leave and anticipate employee retention. A recent survey carried out by PwC reported that workers, especially those born in the late 80’s early 90’s are becoming increasingly willing to allow their employers access to their online personal information as well as a “third being happy for bosses to check their Facebook profiles in return for a stable employment promise”.

Access to personal information is already being accessed by companies using advertising tools and memory databases to track consumer habits and tailor advertising to their likes and search history. A fine line has become of what information these companies can access and a competition of sophisticated personal advertising is being battled out by companies all wanting to persuade consumers to purchase their new product or service.

The difference here between consumer and employees in the workplace is that consumers aren’t guarded by legal protections or filter systems whereas employees are protected by the UK’s Data Protection Act, making it a criminal offense to access information without permission.

With the current rate of technological advancement as well as a modern minded generation entering the workforce, companies are aware of a next level change needed to be incorporated into future HRM practices.  According to another report cited by the HR Review, by monitoring employee’s personal social media activity, firms would also be able to identify employee motivations as well as understand reasons for staff turnover. In gathering this data employers can benefit from improving staff retention and well-being, thus saving costs and improving the work environment for its employees, job performance and satisfaction.

This all sounds well and good and although research from the likes of PwC state that 64% of employees agree with the ideas of this improving their career prospects, a further 32% believe it could have a negative impact on their jobs as well as even putting their job at risk. This isn’t surprising considering how difficult it is to control what gets uploaded and shown on users’ profiles as well as the easiness of saying even the smallest of things that could land you in hot water.

Who knows what the future holds?
Umberto Vietri
Partner, Company Commercial