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Thursday, August 20, 2009

complaining about work on Twitter

A reader writes:

I'm a fan of twitter and have recently started a departmental twitter feed for my branch library. I'm encouraging my student staff to come up with ideas for posts, and they've been very enthusiastic.

However, one of them sent a tweet from his personal twitter account, while he was at work, which talked in a disparaging way about another department.

I approached him and asked him not to say negative things about our workplace and fellow staff on a public account, or if he wanted to, not to mention any specifics that would link it to our library. He is 19 or 20, and though he said he would refrain, I don't think he got the picture.

How can I say this without sounding like I'm snooping, but let them know it's not appropriate? I don't want to say "no tweeting at work," but I also don't want the privilege taken away from myself too, when the higher-ups see negative tweets from workers during working hours.

As his account is public, has his picture, and he mentioned both departments by their proper names, it seemed in poor taste, especially since he tweeted it during his shift. It seems akin to someone complaining about work on facebook, while at work, when you're friends with your boss.

I'd just be straightforward. Tell him, "I know this is your personal Twitter account, but the fact is that you're connected on it to many people at work. Sending out a message that disparages another employee isn't okay, just like it wouldn't be okay if you printed up a flyer about him and passed it out in the parking lot. Just because it's your personal account doesn't mean that it doesn't have ramifications or affect the way you'll be perceived."

You'd also be doing him a favor to spell out for him that this stuff isn't private, now or in the future. If he's job-searching and a prospective employer searches for him and pulls up his twitter page, it's not going to look good to have posts like that there. As many others before me have observed, this generation is so comfortable with social media and so used to living their lives on it that they don't always understand the need to censor themselves in public spaces where they might be observed and judged by people they want something from (like a job, professional respect, etc.).


Anonymous said...

"However, one of them sent a tweet from his personal twitter account, while he was at work, which talked in a disparaging way about another department."

The obvious issue is the employee is not working at work, choosing to bash their peers/employer online instead.

Fire them. Then they can tweet all day about how good they had it..

Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

The role of Twitter to grow people is immense but if some people choose to misuse it to destroy their own learning curve, that is so sad.

Rebecca said...

I'm with Anonymous. This isn't a "generation gap." This is someone who doesn't have enough sense to avoid bad-mouthing his employers and coworkers in public. The medium doesn't matter -- you'd have fired him if he said it out loud at the water cooler in front of other employees, right? Or if he'd sent it as an e-mail from a company account and copied other employees? No need to tiptoe because he's young and he's using New Media.

Heck, the more I look at it, the more it looks like he's trying to get fired. Even if he's not, it'd be a pretty damn valuable life lesson on How To Not Be A Total Idiot At Work. So fire away.

R.B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R.B. said...

Hi! I'm the source of this letter. I work with work-studies, or students who've gotten a job on campus to help with school costs. There is downtime at the job, but when the employee is assigned work he definitely does it. AND since I'm having them do research for library-related subjects to twitter about, I am not going to say they can't twitter themselves.

So, this isn't about him doing something non-work related at work, but putting up a bad front for the organization he's working with and not understanding that being the "face" (public service) of an institution extends to beyond work hours/location.

And I said "disparaging", not slanderous. I won't fire someone for a first infraction unless they kill a coworker or set a patron on fire. Ok, there may be other instances.

Interviewer said...

Coincidentally, Kerry at Clue Wagon posted a link to an article on clueless people posting about work on Twitter. It's priceless reading for a Friday.

Charles said...

A. Brown;

I agree with you - this is not a "fireable" offense, unless he keeps it up.

Part of the work-study program (I was also in the library as an undergraduate for work-study, yea!), at least for me, was to work side-by-side with professionals. It was a good experience. So, let me say "thank you" to them by thanking you here!

Fast-forward several years, I was a trainer in a software company which was staffed by mostly 20-somethings. Out of a staff of 40, only myself and 5 others were older than 30. I am pointing out age, not as a generational issue; but, more as a lack of professional experience issue.

I had trained a customer who was, to put it the way that I did in her review, someone who would "need a lot of handholding from the helpdesk." Yea, she was slow on the learning curve, real slow.

A few weeks later, after some follow-up training conducted by the Helpdesk Supervisor for this paying customer, our manager found his review in the customer's file. His review about this paying customer read something like: "stupid, just dense, dense, dense, so dense that she will never use the software well."

There is a lot more to this story (threats of lawsuits for slander, etc.) than I need to get into.

What our manager did was to call a meeting in which she read out the unprofessional review (without saying who wrote it) first and ask the staff what they thought. It was interesting that so many of them (remember most of them were in their 20s and for many this was their first job after college) said that they agreed with what was said and didn't really see a problem with the language used. "Be honest" so many of them said.

Then the manager read my review (again without saying who wrote it) with much "softer," yet still factual language. It was interesting that everyone (except the pig-head helpdesk supervisor) agreed that the "softer" language review was the way to go.

By holding this meeting the manager let the writer of the bad review know that it was not acceptable. The manager also let everyone in the department know that it was not good and by example showed how to properly write a customer training review.

This situation was way more extreme than yours; However, if any of your student staff continue to do such, maybe you will need to hold a branch meeting for them as my manager did?

P.A., I don't see this as a generational issue nor do I see it as a tech issue. Some people just do not get the "common courtesy" education at home like they should.

Anonymous said...

I just have to chime in here as I did get fired for making "unprofessional" comments on my private twitter account. My thoughts were that a little sarcastic venting was fine since my account was only available to select people. I was wrong.
So, you can understand why I feel it's important to tell someone that these tweets might be a bad idea rather than just firing them.

Surya said...

You know, whenever someone uses the 'N-Gen Defense' to cover for someone's stupid, moronic or generally jerky behavior on internet, I always tell them not to mistake jerkiness for a generation and that it is way offensive for the rest of us when you also slot the jerk's behavior with ours.

And please note, in my professional life, I have never seen anyone from the N-Gen use the N-Gen Defense when talking about a peer who screwed up.

Anonymous said...

jmho, the OP needs to set a better example. Not working at work - setting up a twitter feed that is used at work is cause to fire both of you. Sorry, but if I'm paying you to work, that's what I expect. Don't blame this on generational differences - abuse of company resources, badmouthing an employer is grounds for dismissal.

Anonymous said...

I see this as no different from an employer listening into a private conversation on a work phone. It doesn't matter if that call is a regular conversation or a conference call with 20 people. If that call is personal then the employer shouldn't listen.

In both the case with Facebook/Twitter and the case of listening to a private conversation, the employer knows he is snooping. However, there are laws which prevent an employer from snooping in on a private conversation, so they don't do that. At this point, the law hasn't caught up with all the new online activity. But, the law will catch up eventually. And, if employers keep up this outrageous behavior of snooping on the private lives of employees, then they're not going to like how the law turns out.

Snooping is snooping regardless if it's on the phone or online. Don't do it.

Ask a Manager said...

I disagree. The law is based on situations where people would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, which is not the case when posting something on an online public forum.

Anonymous said...

There certainly is a reasonable expectation of privacy on Facebook. There are a limited number of people who can view your profile, set by yourself. It certainly is not a public forum.

I haven't used Twitter, but I understand that the accounts can be set either public or private. A private account would have an expectation of privacy.

Further, from a quick look at their terms of service it states, "You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users." Firing or threatening to fire someone sounds like a violation of that policy. And, that is true regardless of whether it's a public or private account.

As I stated, to which you did not respond, the law hasn't caught up with all the new online activity. But, the law will catch up eventually. And, if employers keep up this outrageous behavior of snooping on the private lives of employees, then they're not going to like how the law turns out.

Snooping is snooping regardless if it's on the phone or online. Don't do it.

Ask a Manager said...

She stated that he has the account set to public, which would be the equivalent of posting something on a myspace page ... or a flyer posted on the outside of your car. Courts actually have continually found that public forums such as a public twitter account do not constitute a reasonable expectation of privacy ... but so does common sense.

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as snooping or expectation of privacy when it comes to using/abusing company resources in the USA. Case law abounds on this topic and the issues date back at least @2 decades.

Bottom line: The OP and their staff are playing when they should be working > grounds for termination.

Disparaging remarks spoken aloud (or worse in print), about an employer > grounds for termination.

The fact that downtime exists often enough for the staff to get into this kind of trouble screams ineffective management. Downtime means it's time to evaluate how many people are needed to complete the work, their roles, the hours it takes to get the job done. Seems to me no one is evaluating actual staffing needs instead they're catering to staff wants. It seems the staff wants to play and act badly toward the employer & get paid for it!

Jmho the OP and the tweet need to be fired, as neither are handling their work responsibly. And before anyone yells that's not fair - It's not fair to your employer that you are being paid to work when you're not working.

JC said...


Shocking though it might be for you, there certainly are cases in which a web site, blog, or twitter feed might be work related, not "playing." The librarian is probably using the feed like a blog that points patrons to useful web sites, articles, and other resources. That's not downtime, that's libraries using all available technology to reach their patrons and join the 21st century.

If you aren't familiar with what's going on in the library community, you might want to catch up before posting...

Anonymous said...

JC, it would seem you're defending the disparaging remarks as legitimate and work related?

Exactly how is that?

Unknown said...

JC is not defending disparaging remarks as work-related; JC is defending the use of work-related social networking. Libraries do use Twitter, facebook, MySpace, etc for outreach, as do many other companies. It's actually very common.

R.B. said...

Oy-- I'd like to clarify. I created a Twitter for my library's department-- at my boss's request-- for PR purposes. It's working quite well, actually. The employee in question decided to follow us on Twitter, so we added him back. So his tweets come up on our page! I don't think that's snooping-- it's the point of social networking.

I'm in Gen-Y myself, and I mentioned his age because he's new to working in an office environment (just fast food before this). I should have written a much longer letter!