By Max Clarke

Businesses are being offered help in how best to deal with the multi-billion pound scourge that social media can pose.

Whilst social media are replete with benefits to individuals and businesses, improper use- including employees wasting time on their personal accounts during working hours or defaming their company online- costs the UK economy billions of pounds each year.

Logging on to social media has rocketed in the last ten years, with almost six out of ten staff now using it at work, either on computers or mobile phones. But employers say many staff are also abusing it by looking at their personal web pages instead of working, posting derogatory comments about managers and colleagues, or buying and selling online.

Most employers are unclear how to manage this aspect of the digital revolution. A few, such as BT and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, have issued their own policies, but research has found that fewer than one in ten employers have a social media policy.

As a result, employment relations experts, Acas, are offering advice in how best to manage its use.

Believed to be the first of its kind, Acas’ guide recommends that employers should consult with staff and trade unions to spell out the dos and don’ts of using the internet and social media, and should also make clear the consequences of breaching its policy, which should become part of contracts of employment.

It stresses that in working out a policy, employer, staff and unions should agree so employees do not feel gagged, staff and managers feel protected against online bullying, and the firm feels confident its reputation will be guarded.

“Online conduct should not differ from offline conduct,” said Acas’ Chief Executive, John Taylor. “ Employees should assume that everything they say on the internet could be made public, and should think whether they want their colleagues or boss to read it. They might not mean it, but what they post could end up being seen by billions of people worldwide.”

Bosses are also advised to carefully assess the potential harm from an employee stepping out of line on social media before deciding how they will react. Mr Taylor said: “If an employer is too tough, it needs to consider the potential impact of any negative publicity.”

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