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.