Professionalism and Social Media

This article appeared in the October edition of the Ontario Dental Assistants Association Journal, the organization’s exclusive member publication that is published three times a year for 8,000+ ODAA members.

We’ve all done it. You get home from a particularly exhausting day, turn on the computer to check Facebook, maybe pour yourself a glass of wine, and you end up venting some of your frustrations about the day you’ve just had.

Harmless right?

Well maybe not.

It certainly wasn’t in the case of Kaitlyn Walls, a 27 year-old in Dallas, Texas who was fired because of something she wrote on Facebook before she even had a chance to start her new job. Walls posted, “I start my new job today, but I absolutely hate working at day cares.” Someone who knew Walls’ prospective employer shared her status update, and as a result, the single-mom saw her job offer rescinded—all because of what she says was venting after a frustrating day.

And while Walls’ case might seem extreme, it’s just one more example of how easily social media, and our perceived “private” lives online, can have an effect on our jobs.

Facebook—and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest and whatever thing was probably just invented while I wrote this sentence—can actually get us into trouble precisely because of the the things we like about them: Using social media allows us to be ourselves and to share our thoughts and feelings with people. But that sharing can often be problematic.

Consider the case of Ashley Payne, a teacher from Georgia who was fired because of a photograph of her that was posted to social media in which she is holding a glass of wine and a beer while on vacation in Europe. Payne is now in a legal battle to get her job back but the example proves that even things you say and do on social media in your own time can be considered in the context of employment.

Indeed, scanning a person’s social media profiles is increasingly the norm in ascertaining whether or not someone is suitable for employment. A 2014 survey conducted by the recruiting website Jobvite found that 93% of hiring managers will review a candidate’s social media profiles before making a hiring decision. And even if you’re not currently looking for work, you can never be sure that your current superior—or someone who knows them—isn’t taking a gander at what you’re sharing.

Accordingly, your social media profiles are now often considered not only a reflection of your own attitudes and behaviour, but, by extension, can influence people’s opinions on your workplace and any professional organizations to which you might belong. So while you might just be sounding off after a long day or engaging in a spirited debate, there can be serious repercussions—for you and for the people you work with.

That’s why it’s important to consider a few things before you post that status update. Is your message intended for a specific person? If so, send it to them privately. There’s no need to broadcast your personal conversations—and the person for whom the message is intended will probably appreciate your discretion.

Are you being reactive or venting emotions? Take a time out. Maybe draft the message somewhere else and then, if you still feel the same way in a few hours, come back and hit send. You may find that giving yourself a little time to cool off will make you reconsider saying something unfortunate.

Will you offend someone? If so, it’s almost certainly not something you want to share publicly.

Lastly, and most importantly, are you OK with (literally) everyone being able to see your message? Trying to take back something you said on the internet is a lot like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. It ain’t gonna happen. So if what you’re about to write isn’t something you’d want a prospective employer or your current boss to read, do yourself a favour: turn off the computer. Maybe even pour yourself a little more wine. Just skip the selfie.

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