Generations at Work: Generational Differences and Social Media

LRay-0612XSML.jpgS. Lorrie Ray, Membership Development

I have been in the workforce for what some days seems like forever, and really can remember what work life was like before the Internet, much less social media. I view social media as something for limited sharing of my personal life, mainly posting scenic pictures, and making what I hope are either positive or humorous comments on my friends’ posts. On the other hand, one of my colleagues, who I will call Avery, was learning about Facebook in college and loves social media.  It’s very much a part of her life.  She is constantly checking out what is new, and using it to its full advantage. For example, when she got engaged she changed her status on Facebook and received all sorts of posts on where to have her wedding, what food to serve, and what wedding dresses her friends wore.  Still, Avery was fortunate to learn in college that she needed to carefully monitor her own posts, as well as what is posted about her.  As an athlete, she had to make sure her behavior was impeccable during her both her sport and leisure time.

For those growing up with social media, who didn’t receive Avery’s early training, posting all sorts of things on Facebook or Twitter (that I cannot imagine posting) can seem perfectly natural.  Unfortunately, those seemingly natural posts can cause disruption in the workplace and lead to discharge of employees who honestly didn’t mean to upset anyone.  Such posts can also hurt the organization.   

I know some of read accounts like this one that happened recently,, and think that it’s due to a lack of common sense.  As a friend of mine likes to say, “Common sense is very uncommon.”  Really though, it is not because there is a lack of common sense in the world; in fact, what seems obvious to a person who is shy of social media, is not common to someone who uses it all of the time to express their thoughts and feelings.

Turnover is expensive, especially when an otherwise good employee is fired due to a lack of understanding of what an organization deems appropriate use of social media.  It is becoming more and more important for employers to help employees understand what is okay and what is not on social media.  The problem is articulating those standards.  Here are three tips:

Have a clear social media policy for all employees.  Make sure it does not run afoul of employment laws, particularly the National Labor Relations Act.  And, make sure employees are well versed on your policy.

Mentor new employees so that they understand what is and what is not acceptable.  Help employees understand how your organization uses social media, so that they are in tune with its values and philosophies and have a real sense for how your organization wants to be seen.

Don’t make any discharge decisions in a vacuum.  A supervisor seeing a post that is upsetting may rush to a decision that could be more severe than the behavior.  Make sure there is a mechanism in your organization so that supervisors can consult with others who may have a greater perspective when seeing offending items in print or on the Internet.