Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Social Kerfuffle: What is an Employee?

Who owns the behavior of an employee on the social networks? In a world where we have all gone BYOD, and I would posit - gone BYOS (Bring your own "Social Network") - who owns what? And who is responsible when an error is made by the employee? What is an error? What is an employee?


Here is what is reported to have happened - Oracle employee Jill Rowley has been fired by Oracle apparently for talking to the press. This wouldn't be such a big deal because all companies have rules on who can and cannot talk to the press. But she was running an active Twitter account and a social network campaign to the knowledge of Oracle. In fact, she was featured in news about how Oracle retained top talent and was using social just last year. In an unrelated news, Github is trying to figure out what it means for your employee to resign and then tweet about it

I have no strong opinion one way or another on the Oracle-Rowley story although lots of pundits have jumped in. But I do have one big question - in a world where the employee is no longer "inside the firewall" or even the four walls, where are the boundaries and what is the definition of what an employee can and cannot do without explicit consent.

What is an Employee?
An average employee today will have over 7 jobs in their working life (if not more) and the employers don't even pretend to do what's best for employees anymore. They nickel and dime you to death - see what IBM did to save a few bucks - apparently a new standard in helping your employees.

Meanwhile employees have their permanently updated resumes posted on LinkedIn - a thinly disguised job hunting site. Savvy employees build a network of connections with customers, prospects, media and employees using all the modern tools - LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. 

Companies actively encourage their employees to "retweet" messages from corporate leadership - help recruit, help spread the message about upcoming event, help find new customers and prospects, etc.

Employers actively leverage employees' social networks for their goals. In exchange, they lose control of the clean boundary of 9 to 5 and four walls of the office. If you are posting how awesome your CEO is, what happens when your friend who happens to be a blogger asks back a question about a controversial issue. Are you or are you not allowed to speak?

We live in a new world and we have to redefine the employer-employee "social" relationship by answering many of these questions:
  • When employees are actively used by an employer to spread a message on social network, how do you deal with the employee that changes the message or responds to a follow up. What is the line? What happens when an employee adds a picture, a smiley face, a wink to the tweet? What happens when she talks to a blogger? Reporter? CEO of a partner? You can't lead the employee to a situation where they are likely to trip over and then show them your official rule book.
  • What are the employees rights? Can they refuse to tweet? Will they be penalized for keeping their work and social life/network independent? Should they be paid? What if an employee has a million followers because she blogs about cars and she works for a telephone company? Does she owe helping her employer?
What does it mean to be an employee? What is the bill of rights of employees on social networks?

2 comments:

Kenneth Fung said...

Anshu, we’re moving to world where according to Deloitte most of the individuals an organisation relies on will not be on the payroll by 2020.The extended enterprise will move from being a peculiarity to a generality. At this point employers will have to consider how they deal not only with associates’ communications but with a wide range of other facets of a more complex contractual relationship. Individuals’ behaviour on social networks is only the starting point for a much more complex world of future employment.

Anshu Sharma said...

Yes, the definition of 'four walls', 'firewall', 'employees' and even what a 'customer' is needs to be re-thought. We are living in very fluid times.