Social Media And Its Impact On Working Professionals

Woman and social network concept | Credit: Petar Chernaev
Woman and social network concept | Credit: Petar Chernaev

I was contacted by a freelance journalist with the BBC for my thoughts about what social media has taken away from working professionals. I am reposting my response below (in a “Question and Answer” or “Q & A” format).

Reporter Question: What do you think social media has taken away from us? In terms of taken away from working professionals.

My Answer: One key thing I believe social media takes away (or we allow it to take away) from us is the ability to self-filter. It is too easy to post a quick one-word or one-sentence thought or vent to express our beliefs, our joys, our anger or frustrations at anything and at any given moment. The ramifications, especially as they apply to working professionals, (whether you’re an executive or a clerk) is that posting unfiltered contents online for the world to see, read, and/or hear about means that our social lives are now dangerously intertwined with our professional/business lives. And make no mistake, just because you’re “off the clock” from your paid job does not lessen the risks of getting yourself into trouble by posting things on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media sites.

Reporter Question: Are people vilified for their views? Are they held in check for their political opinions? Does this stop people really expressing themselves? Has social media muted our opinions rather than giving us a platform to express ourselves?

My Answer: I would argue that, rather than social media muting our opinions and our ability to express those opinions, it has, in fact, AMPLIFIED it to the nth degree. We have so many avenues through which we can record our views/opinions and there really are not many checkpoints to prevent us from writing/posting contents that might later prove to be extremely detrimental (personally and professionally) to ourselves and/or others.

Reporter Question: What’s the cost of all the self promotion that goes on in social media?

My Answer: The cost of not self-censoring/self-filtering is that anyone can get themselves in hot water. The other thing I see is that too much self-promotion means that sometimes, attention is paid to whoever is the loudest, flashiest self-promoter. For example, there are many brilliant industrial/organizational psychologist who are academics and who spend significant portions of their lives and careers in research and writing for academic journals. Because these professionals, by and large, are not big self-promoters, their works tend to not be recognized by the public and the news outlets. It is only when business professors, like Adam Grant or Bob Sutton, write great books that translate research into applicable business principles and practices and then have book publishers promote their works on social media that they become “known.”

Reporter Question: Are we scared to over-share? Where has this fear come from?

My Answer: I think we should all be very scared to overshare and those who aren’t scared should be very afraid. We share way too much of ourselves and our families online. People post pictures of their families and small children and talk about where their kids go to school, what their teachers’ and classmates names are, where the school is located, or that they’re on vacation hundreds or thousands of miles away, or they’ll overshare about their medical problems or surgeries. What these people have done is to freely give away important information about themselves and their loved ones to complete strangers online. This is how identity thieves and other perpetrators get your information or find out where you live and where your children attend school. I have heard about a person who posted on Facebook that she was away enjoying her vacation. Thieves broke into her home because one of the men saw her social media posting and knew that she wasn’t home.

Reporter Question: Has social media actually taken away our freedom of expression? Because we want to be liked by everyone so we self censor?

My Answer: I believe there’s actually less self-censoring because of the ubiquitous nature of social media. With our insatiable demand for short/witty/shocking infotainment-type of news bites and short video clips, there tends to be more weight/value placed on (1) being first to post anything, and (2) posting something that shocks and/or entertains. Because of this first-to-publish mentality, we can see why we’re less inclined to self-censor because we’re in such a hurry to produce something (anything) that’s funny or shocking.

Reporter Question: And if you do over-share? How are we treated? Can posting something “inappropriate” get you fired? Or worse?

My Answer: This has absolutely happened — that is, individuals posting something “inappropriate” which resulted in them getting fired from their jobs. Just Google, “posting something inappropriate and getting fired” or “employee fired over Facebook post” and see how many hits you’ll get!

I’ll end with this —

Many young adults do not support the use of social media in the hiring and firing decisions, and instead endorse a “very liberal view of the types of material that people should be able to post online without the threat of job termination” (Drouin, O’Connor, Schmidt, & Miller, 2015, p. 127).

But, regardless of how one may feel about it, the consequences are real and can negatively affect an individual’s professional life and career. In fact, it has even acquired a not-so-friendly name — “Facebook Fired” — whereby employees are terminated from their jobs because of posts by them or even of them on social media (Drouin, O’Connor, Schmidt, & Miller, 2015).

“[T]his generation of upcoming workers (young adults) must be informed that regardless of their opinions of the fairness of these policies [i.e., using social media in hiring and firing decisions], as it currently stands, their short-term social media use could have a long-term effect on their future careers” (Drouin, O’Connor, Schmidt, & Miller, 2015, p. 128).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant

Reference

Drouin, M., O’Connor, K. W., Schmidt, G. B., & Miller, D. A. (2015). Facebook fired: Legal perspectives and young adults’ opinions on the use of social media in hiring and firing decisions. Computers in Human Behavior, 46, 123-128.