Social Networks and Employment – A Valid Data Point for Recruitment Today?
From the earliest carrier pigeon systems to contemporary telecommunication channels, humans have always looked for innovative ways to speak to one another. In this pursuit, we have erased geographical boundaries and made communication virtually instantaneous. This is possible due to the creation of social media tools which let us engage in “social networking”. Online services provide us a virtual soapbox, announcing our views, both trivial and serious, not just to our friends and family but the entire world.
Having such a medium means there can be clear a record of everything one says or does on such websites. Public opinions and strongly held beliefs can be documented and people can be held accountable for things posted online. Users willingly give up personal data to popular services such as Twitter, Facebook and Reddit and much of this information is public by default unless one changes their settings. While there are several instances where this may be valuable such as intra-personal relationships or criminal investigation, there is one field where such data is used habitually to make big decisions – Human Resource Management (HRM).
Human Resource (HR) managers, with increasingly smaller budgets are faced with the challenge of hiring the best people for their companies while reducing employee churn or the rate of turnover in an organization’s staff. To meet their goals, they must ensure that the potential employee will “fit” into a company’s culture. This means that the recruit must not just be qualified but that their habits and opinions must align with the company’s brand and values.
Therefore, in addition to interviews, managers rely on online profile checking to be made aware of any signs that may point to a candidate not fitting in with the company and its broader ideals. This is especially important in jobs that are public facing such as customer service, sensitive such as medicine, or require deep commitment to the organizations goals such as government. Online profiles can paint a picture of maturity level while highlighting contrarian thoughts or other potential abuses that may reflect negatively if such individuals are made a part of the company.
Real World Examples
Clearly one can see why social networking is a great tool for companies to get a sense of their employees’ character. In 2014, a report emerged that “51% of employers who research job candidates on social media said they’ve found content that caused them to not hire the candidate.” (Grasz) As the cases of such behavior have increased, managers have also made sure to continue monitoring online accounts of their employees with requests for online identities being a common question on job applications. This has been especially rewarding with cases such as Justine Sacco’s. Sacco was a Director of Corporate Communications but was fired for a severely racist tweet that later went viral and ruined the reputation of her company (Pilkington). Another incident was the Taco Bell employee who was fired for urinating in customers’ food and was only caught when he posted pictures of his activities on Twitter. (Tepper)
Any such notorious event can damage reputation online and lead to losses in company revenue in the real world. This makes it the responsibility of mangers and executive level staff to monitor employee activity online. Furthermore, they must be vigilant about keeping up employee productivity, discouraging irrelevant usage, leaking of privileged information and their liability for any harassment happening under their roof. It is for these reasons that I strongly believe monitoring serves is a vital employee management technique to curb inappropriate web use and better the work environment.
The law also realizes the responsibility of private companies to use social networking as a data point in their recruitment process and as of today there are “no federal laws that prohibit an employer from requiring an employee or job applicant to provide their username and password for social media accounts.” (Workplace Fairness) This is because courts have ruled there are lesser First Amendment rights in the workplace. (Corp. FindLaw) Most companies today provide employees with written statements before joining. These explicitly state that they will be monitoring their online activities as permitted by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).
While I view such monitoring as a protection of both the employee and the employer, there are those who view it as a violation of privacy and unnecessary limiting of employee behavior during their personal time. States such as Michigan and Illinois have made it mandatory obtain employee consent if their social media is accessed by their employer in any way (Workplace Fairness). There is also a related concern of limiting an employee’s ability to be a whistleblower in case they find illegal or unethical activity taking place within the company. That is why Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed, surmising that social media usage can be out of employer reach if it is used by the employee for “collective bargaining, mutual aid or protection” purposes (NLRB).
Additionally, laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act all mandate that the information found on these social networking sites cannot be used to discriminate potential or current employees based on age, race, disability, religion, national origin, or gender. (FindLaw) This makes managers hesitant to use the data they do find as one can argue on a broader basis for discrimination given the amount of personal information that is available.
The world is changing and so must organizations if they are to succeed. The approaches used by the managers are only an attempt to adapt to changing habits and communication methods. Holding employees and potential hires accountable for their actions on social media is no different than finding out internal gossip or discovering gaps in a candidate’s resume by checking their references. The only difference is that this takes place in real time and can occur even if the employee tries to hide it as deleting things on the internet is difficult.
In addition to keeping the reputation of companies intact, the policy also has the additional benefit of making sure that the company culture brings more like-minded people together. By looking at social media content managers can judge whether the employee would get along with their coworkers leading to satisfaction and happiness and if not can save the employee from a dull or harsh job that they may later lead to demotivation and decreased mental health.
Having shared my own social media accounts with past employers, I can say that this leads to a more trusting relationship between the two. In the long run, employers want to be involved in the life of their employees as it does affect their bottom line. One can imagine a world where such monitoring is used for more than just recruitment but for giving employee specific benefits and connecting them to coworkers that would better match their personality. In these ways, the little sacrifice in privacy can be beneficial both ways. And as one must remember, some things are best left private.
Corp. FindLaw. “Freedom Of Speech In The Workplace: The First Amendment.” Findlaw. Reuters, Inc., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.
FindLaw. “Overview of Employment and Anti-Discrimination Laws.” Findlaw. Reuters, Inc., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.
Grasz, Jennifer. “CareerBuilder.” CareerBuilder Survey. Career Builder, 26 June 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.
NLRB. “NLRB.gov.” Interfering with Employee Rights (Section 7 & 8). National Labor Relations Board, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.
Pilkington, Ed. “Justine Sacco, PR Executive Fired over Racist Tweet, ‘ashamed’.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 22 Dec. 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.
Statistica. “Number of Worldwide Social Network Users 2010-2020 | Statistic.” Statista. Statistica, Inc., 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.
Tepper, Rachel. “Taco Bell Employee Cameron Jankowski Pees On Nachos, Gets Targeted By Anonymous (PHOTO).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 08 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.
Workplace Fairness. “Workplace Fairness.” Social Networking & Computer Privacy. Midwest New Media, LLC, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.