By Barbara Hewitt
Our methods of communication have clearly changed over the last decade. Most of us have the ability to check work email from home, pay our personal bills at work, and text and access social networks like Facebook just about anywhere we want. In fact, the question becomes not “Can we do these things at work?”…. but “Should we?”.
For a lot of people, “work” and “personal” days have blurred and they may feel justified in using office technology and time to handle personal issues since they are probably handling at least some “office” work from home. For many organizations there is an implicit (if unstated) culture that on a limited basis this is fine. As long as employees are productive, providing them with the flexibility to determine what they need to do while at work may keep them happier and in the long run more loyal to the organization. (This is analogous to the somewhat dated notion of making personal calls at work. A few are overlooked and seen as necessary, but it is pretty easy to get annoyed with a colleague who spends three hours every day yakking on the phone while everyone else in the office is working hard on projects.)
As a new employee, there are some things you should do to make sure you make a smooth transition into your workplace. When you start a new job, make sure you investigate if there are written policies governing how you use the organization’s resources such as computers and telephones. What are you allowed to access from the office (or outside the office, say, on a company issued phone)? If there isn’t a written policy, pay attention to the unwritten rules of the office. Many organizations outright block access to sites like Facebook, not wanting their employees to waste time on things that are clearly not related to their jobs. Other employers are much more flexible, understanding that communication technologies have changed and allowing employees to utilize these tools as long as they don’t interfere with productivity. Still others wholeheartedly embrace employees’ use of such tools – believing that their employees should keep up on the latest trends in technology. (And let’s face it, lots of people now manage social media as part of their job descriptions!)
As an employee, you should be aware that many employers have the capacity to check employee computers, emails, and texts from an office phone or pager. There is no assurance that what you might have thought was private is. (Just ask the police offer in California who was texting heavily with both his wife and mistress from an employer issued pager. The Supreme Court ruled last week that his employer, the City of Ontario, CA, did not violate his rights when they checked his text messages.)
You should also be very careful what you say about your employer in online forums. CareerBuilder.com has reported that a significant number of companies indicate that they have investigated the posting of sensitive information to a social network, ultimately resulting in disciplinary action including termination of employees. I’ve personally worked with a student who was terminated from an internship because she posted information about her company to what she considered to be a private blog. The company had a Google alert set-up and found it very quickly once it was posted. It wasn’t even that the content of the post was egregious to the employer, but rather that the intern had violated company policy by posting anything at all about the employer online.
Words to the wise. It is better to be cautious in today’s world than to find yourself in a position to regret your actions later. In today’s online world, it is almost impossible to deny your actions after the fact.