By Daniel Hunter

Small businesses around the globe are failing to confront the possible problems presented by the use of personal social media accounts in the workplace and are leaving themselves open to potential legal action from employees who feel themselves affected by privacy breaches and cyber-bullying as a result.

That’s one of the conclusions that can be drawn from the latest AVG Technologies N.V. Digital Diaries study, [i]Digital Work Life=/i], which surveyed 4,000 workers from ten countries around the world in relation to cyber-bullying and privacy in the workplace.

The study presents a picture of a global workforce whose personal life is being invaded through the improper use of social media by colleagues or professional contacts. In fact, half of all SMB workers believe that the use of social media has eroded their privacy.

Evidence of this can be seen in the quarter of small business workers (companies with 1-99 employees) who have felt socially obligated to accept a colleague’s social media request. Whilst this activity seems relatively innocuous, the findings show that, even though simple solutions are available, the problems associated with privacy do appear to be deepening into incidents of cyber-bullying and harassment.

The study indicates that many employees either rightly or wrongly believe that the use of social media at the office is the responsibility of their employer. Approximately half of all SMB workers believe their company is responsible for the online behaviour of employees using personal social media accounts during work hours.

Companies who ignore this belief and who fail to create awareness on the proper use of social media by employees or put processes and standards in place to combat the abuse of social media might find themselves exposed to possible legal cases around privacy breaches and cyber-bullying.

As is to be expected, the larger the company the higher the likelihood that ample processes, policies or codes to address the issue of social media usage will be in place. Conversely, only a quarter of the smallest businesses (1-99 employees) do.

Mike Foreman, General Manager for SMB at AVG Technologies, said: “The findings of our Digital Work Life study point to the growing concerns associated with online privacy and cyber-bullying within small business. While it is widely acknowledged that the lines between the workplace and home are blurring, little is being done by businesses to confront the issues that this trend will cause in the office.

"We’re only now beginning to recognise the signs of cyber-bullying and if small businesses want to stop it in its tracks there are easy and affordable Cloud-based tools available to help them establish and enforce polices that will allow workers to use social media productively, whilst respecting co-workers’ privacy.”

Jenny Ungless, an independent HR Consultant and life coach, commented on the findings. “While you can’t completely control what people say about you online, you can control the ‘ammunition’ they have against you. Being more careful about your posts on social networks or ensuring your privacy settings protect your personal information are just a few steps you can take. The research shows adults are now finding themselves in unchartered territory when it comes to social media in the workplace.

"Having to ward off colleagues’ romantic advances online, suffer the embarrassment of unwanted personal photos seen by colleagues or have personal details from social networks used against you, are all things that adults haven’t typically had to deal with. We often talk about bringing work home with us, yet little has been done to date to tackle our home-life now being taken into the office and the possible implications of this.”

Join us on
Follow @freshbusiness