My coworker once discovered that our colleague was blogging about us on his Tumblr account. He wasn't writing anything scandalous — the morning meeting was dull, he timed our bathroom breaks — yet it was in violation of our corporate policy. So as gossip spread through the workplace, we debated whether or not to turn him in.
It turns out this predicament is common among my Millennial-aged friends. There's one who sees his friend in Facebook photos smoking pot. There's another who sees her friend hanging out at the beach when she called in sick.
With ever-changing digital and workplace guidelines, what is considered acceptable and unacceptable to report to HR? After all, no one wants to be a tattletale, but at the same time, no one wants to get in trouble for not notifying corporate HR about behaviors that might damage their livelihood.
It turns out there's no consensus among HR managers about specific social media policies. Larger firms tend to adhere to stricter no-tolerance guidelines, while smaller shops are more lenient, but all agree that HR departments need to be proactive about addressing social media usage. "Many of our employees don't see anything wrong with talking about their lives at work, so during orientation, just as I talk about vacation or healthcare, we talk about best practices," says one HR executive with an entertainment company.
Indeed, HR managers believe "don't do stupid things" is the best approach to social media. Coworkers don't need to tattle if their colleagues aren't doing inappropriate things. "It’s really an issue of common sense ... everyone has the right to free speech so from a social media perspective, we can’t tell people what to say or what not to say. And frankly, given the nature of our business, we encourage our employees to be very active on social media — to share experiences, highlight events, share new perspectives, raise awareness," says HR manager Alison Moriarty, SVP, Group Director, Starcom MediaVest Group, a network under advertising holding company Publicis Groupe.
There are still times when employees may see things that they wished they didn't. And when that happens, HR managers prefer these workers err on the side of more rather than less disclosure. "As an employer, it is critical for us to protect the interests of our clients, our people and our business," says Moriarty.
These violators may face punishment, but HR managers say they won't penalize workers for not telling them about coworkers. Several say that this open, as-you-see-fit policy encourages young employees to come forward. That said, many managers realize that Millennials may not view many situations as problematic — or that they fall into a grey zone of uncertainly. As such, many recommend setting up a way to anonymously report situations that then allow others to take control. "It's all about transparency. Let me know the good and the bad and let me be the judge," says one executive with an advertising agency.
Ultimately, anonymity is how my colleagues and I handled our blogging worker. We left a note that led to HR eventually deciding that his behavior was unacceptable and he was let go. Full disclosure: we still read his blog.