Just because you can

There are many things that this increasingly connected, digital world enables us to do. We have opportunities and possibilities beyond the wildest dreams of our forefathers and seemingly each day the horizon proves to be just a staging point for greater and further exploration.

Society, human interaction and behaviour is changing. No more or less than it has changed in the past, just differently and perhaps more quickly. The things that we accept now, would make our grandparents blush. The things that they accepted would have had the same effect on theirs. It is just the way that the world works, develops and moves on. For better, for worse, for ever.

Increasingly, lives are being lived in a potentially more open way. The fact that I can express these thoughts in public, promote and publicise them through social tools and yet also share the music that I’m listening to, what I’m eating and what I’m doing seems normal to me, but perhaps less so to my parents. My children in turn will share things that will make my toes curl. They probably are. I don’t want to think about that.

As employers, as organisations, we have to constantly readjust to the changes. We have choices about how we harness, use, or ignore the opportunities that this world offers us. We can see, follow, know more about our employees and our future employees than ever before. We can understand how they work, how they socialise, what they do. We can see in to their lives in a way that was previously impossible.

But as employers we need to think incredibly hard before delving in to the private lives of employees, even when they’re presented in public. The increasing societal acceptance of openness isn’t an invitation to blur the boundaries between the professional and the personal. The ease of access to the “private” lives of employees, shouldn’t be mistaken for a willingness to allow employers in to it.

The received wisdom is that employees need to think hard about their social footprints and the impact that this can have on their employability. My belief is that this will change, instead employers will need to think hard about their invasion in to the private lives of employees, no matter how public the private. Do you want to work for an organisation that is willing to spy on the things that you do in your private life? Do you want to be employed by someone who makes judgments on your ability to do a job based on your choice of activities at weekends?

Article 8 of the European Human Convention on Human Rights sets out the right to respect for private and family life. We’ve seen the backlash against “government snooping” as a result of the Snowden leaks. The individual publication of personal information in to public spaces isn’t going to abate or diminish, regardless of whether people are looking for a job or not. Their expectations of how organisations use this information is. And their perceptions of organisations that handle this situation badly will be less than favourable.

At the end of the day, we employ employees to work. We are interested in what they do and deliver in the sphere of the organisation, in their role as paid agents. Before the internet, before the advent of social tools, we wouldn’t send references to the pubs and clubs that were local to a prospective employee, we didn’t send them to the various social groups or political parties that they might have been members of, we sent them to their previous employers and educational establishments. We did so because that was the information that we were interested in, anything else would have seemed perverse and wrong. And funnily enough, despite the ability to do otherwise, it still is.

Just because something is easy, doesn’t make it right.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.


  1. daviddsouza180 · January 13, 2014

    Not often I get to respond to a blog by using an exchange from Jurassic Park.

    Dr. Ian Malcolm: If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now
    [bangs on the table]
    Dr. Ian Malcolm: you’re selling it, you wanna sell it. Well…
    John Hammond: I don’t think you’re giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody’s ever done before…
    Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

    • Neil · February 23, 2014

      *high five*

  2. Robert Ordever · January 13, 2014

    All this comes at a time when employers are becoming more interested in attitude, personal values and cultural fit. References have sadly been reduced to bland and safe certificates of service.

    Rather like the pastries available at Starbucks this morning…I know I shouldn’t but it’s certainly very tempting.

    • Neil · February 23, 2014

      The whole reference thing is a real problem, isn’t it?

  3. Meg Peppin · January 13, 2014

    Recruiters appear to have all sorts of pet hates that will take someone off a shortlist without any need to substantiate or evidence so I see no reason why not add a subjective view at someone’s Facebook likes to the recruitment pot. The reality is Neil, that people are making these decisions whether or not they look at a Facebook page.

    I agree with your assertion that just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should. However, if someone blogs, tweets, has a pinterest, about me, then they, we, me, are making all that available for anyone to see, so why wouldn’t that include recruiters?

    I guess if ll recruiters were insightful about where their unconscious bias lies, they would keep focussed on the skills and capabilities for the job, so whether it’s out there in the social world, or on the traditional CV, the problem lies with the decision making filters not the data.

    • Neil · February 23, 2014

      If we go out in public, then we should expect employers to monitor and follow us there too?

  4. Sukh Pabial · January 13, 2014

    So is there something here about a new social manifesto from employers?

    – we won’t snoop and pry on you. If you behave like a responsible adult, we’ll behave like a responsible employer
    – we’ll respect your right to access social networks during work time
    – we’ll act responsibly as a brand and only use social channels to engage and invite opinion


    • Neil · February 23, 2014

      We are only interested in what you do in and around work.

  5. eldebash · January 14, 2014

    Employers see employees as brands even outside the sphere of work. Ever heard of statements like “Its the guy who works for the CBA group” Whatever one does on the social media, people have a way of linking it to your employers.

    • Neil · February 23, 2014

      So we should only act in our PRIVATE lives in a way that reflects well on our employers? I think not…..

  6. Mike · January 15, 2014

    There is a need to for recruiters to fully understand how potential employees use their social networks e.g. many only have friends on Facebook so use this as the channel to share jokes, bad hair days, kids’ accomplishments – almost as you would at a BBQ or at the pub. This channel is private and should remain so – I can’t imagine any recruiter feeling comfortable gatecrashing a private family and friends’ party, so they shouldn’t feel comfortable gatecrashing a FB page.

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