I recently saw articles on Social Sentry from Teneros, which enables employers to monitor in real time employees’ social networking activity for potentially damaging posts or information, and UDiligence, which does similar work for universities, offering a “hosted solution that automatically watches the Facebook, Twitter and MySpace pages of student-athletes for any careless posts/comments. When one of these posts is found, an email alert is automatically delivered to the athletic department so a coach or staff member can counsel the student-athlete regarding the post.”
The rationale for both services – protection of the organization – is logical. People can and do make mistakes, and can and do engage in deliberate attempts to damage the reputations of their employers (I consider colleges and universities employers of athletes, but that’s another discussion).
I understand that what employees are doing on their own time and on their own pages, where transgressions often occur, can be problematic, but, aside from some seriously awful anecdotes about employees’ misbehavior or mistakes, I’ve not seen data on just how much employee transgressions have actually cost employers.
Personally, I would not feel comfortable knowing that I was being watched away from work. I do not surrender my personal views or friendships or history or social life to my employer when I accept a position.
I wonder whether work at some employers is going to become too much of a risk for some people – those who value their privacy, individuality, and freedom of expression (most people, I imagine). People need and want to work, which can put employers in control when it comes to privacy. If you love your work, you may forgo some freedom at the edges of your life to continue doing it but you also get paid in return for doing something you love. That is still (and I hate this phrase now that just about everyone uses it) a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line on your privacy? Do you stop posting political views? Religious views? Opinions about sports figures? Any and all photos? Do you simply start setting up private groups on social networking sites, vetting the invited friends by asking them to “sign” your own privacy agreement?
When it comes to personal social networking activities, I believe employees should be free from spying activities, regardless of how concerned an organization says it is about loss of IP or any proprietary info on processes, new products, etc. And, while I’m at it, I would view with suspicion any company argument that it’s those Gen Ys with little fear about privacy they are afraid of; I think most Gen Ys know the difference between telling everyone what they did last weekend (which, again, is another issue entirely) and posting information on Facebook about a forthcoming product or breaching confidentiality agreements.
In my opinion, spying on employees’ social networking activities and communications reveals weaknesses in the employer, specifically in its hiring and engagement skills and processes. If an employer does not trust its employees – and this, for me, is all about trust, nothing more and nothing less, regardless of the coating an employer may put on it – it will reap the deserved rewards: lower loyalty and lower engagement, both of which affect productivity and, some research suggests, are directly correlated with lower organizational performance and even lower stock price. With the job market loosening up, monitoring personal social networking activity might even something else: losing an employee or two.