Do firms have right to compel employees to be social?

Is your boss a Facebook friend? If she is, you're among the 21 percent of respondents in a recent U.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Is your boss a Facebook friend? If she is, you're among the 21 percent of respondents in a recent U.S. survey who have also added their bosses as friends. That's 1 in 5 employees.

Thanks to the advent of the Internet and, to a much larger extent, social media, our personal and professional lives have become increasingly muddled. And unfortunately, they are likely going to become more entangled as more and more companies extend their branding initiatives to social networks.

There've been numerous reports about why social media should be used in a range of corporate activities from marketing and branding campaigns, to employment and recruitment exercises and customer servicing.

As more enterprises recognize the potential of social networks as a business tool, more are likely to insist their employees link up on these platforms and integrate the tools into their daily work tasks. So like it or not, we may no longer have a choice as employees.

But that raises a lot of unanswered questions.

Will employees be expected to be social 24 by 7, and do workers then have a right to demand extra pay? Incidentally, last month, Brazil approved a law that allows workers to ask for overtime pay for answering e-mail outside their office hours. Should this be extended to tweeting and updating Facebook walls after office hours?

More importantly, what will it mean for those who seek work-life balance?

Does it also mean that our employers have a right to access our social profiles including our Facebook account passwords? And does it mean we won't be allowed to own the same online identity when we change jobs? It's akin to how some companies used to make it a requirement for departing workers to leave behind name cards of business contacts they established while they were with the company.

And how truthful do we stay to our social persona?

We've read many reports about how our behavior and what we say on social networks can potentially damage our company's reputation, and get us fired.

So organizations are often reminded to establish clear social media policies to explicitly state what is and is not acceptable employee behavior online. Workers, too, should often remind themselves to watch what they say on the Internet.

It's bound to make some of us schizo, really, as it goes against the primary reason we join social networks in the first place.

Whether businesses have the right to compel employees to be social remains a gray area, and one that can potentially create discontent and disgruntled workers. Companies would do well to tread carefully.

For now, I adopt this maxim in managing my own online persona: Never say or do something online that you wouldn't say or do in the physical world.

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