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Don't cross the line online
Published on Thursday, 23 Jun 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung

In a world swamped with digital technology, the boundaries between courtesy and crude have become blurred, especially at work. Is it conscientious or inconsiderate to check your text messages at a meeting or Tweet that you are bored at work? And what does your Facebook status tell your boss?

A recent survey by recruitment firm Robert Half International (RHI) revealed 85 per cent of finance and accounting hiring managers believe technology etiquette breaches can harm a career. A total of 1,651 human resources (HR), finance and accounting professionals in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand were polled, with 410 respondents from Hong Kong. 

Among the many digital offences, posting offensive comments on Facebook or Twitter can have serious career consequences.

About 70 per cent of the respondents claimed that using social networking sites has damaged workplace relationships, with 24 per cent claiming it had harmed their own workplace relationships.

A little common sense goes a long way, says Sandy Hathiramani, a Hong Kong student of media communications at Australia's Deakin University.

"Employers and recruiters don't really know you and so they try to find out something about you. Before, they would check your social network. Now they look you up on [Facebook] or LinkedIn," she says.

"The problem is that most young people write about their social life on [Facebook]. I guess employers are looking for good citizens. So, it's better to be more responsible of what's on your [Facebook] or blogsite - and edit it just as you would when your mother and father are on it. When your parents are on your Facebook, you are more careful about what you post up there."

Organisations are beginning to set social media policies to guide employees. The survey found that 41 per cent of respondents' firms have a clear social media policy in place to guide employees' digital conduct.

Victor Lee, a salesman at a leading electrical appliance store in Hong Kong, says his employer has a strict social media policy.

"Only managers and supervisors are allowed to use their cell phones on duty. Others have to wait till they are off duty. But some of us sometimes break the rules. I'll reply to important texts and check the newsfeed on Facebook when there is nothing much to do at work. But I do it discreetly," he says.

"I believe it's acceptable if it does not harm your performance at work or affect the image of your company. What's unacceptable is using cell phones in meetings. That's rude and socially unacceptable."

Are tech gadgets really making employees less polite? Helen Yien, a recruitment consultant, believes that most Hong Kong employees are disciplined.

"Hong Kong employees are disciplined and know when and where to use their tech gadgets. Most employers in Hong Kong tend to block off the internet, but smartphones keep employees connected," she says.

Increasingly, recruiters like Yien are using social media to hunt for talent. Another RHI survey revealed that 62 per cent of Hong Kong bosses, well above the regional average of 37 per cent, use social networking platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook in their hiring process. Yien says recruiters use Facebook and Twitter to check candidates' social networks.

"Some recruiters use Facebook to hunt for recruits. I use it to contact candidates. Definitely, recruiters see social media platforms as valid networking arena, especially for early to mid-career recruits," she says.

RHI's Andrew Morris says: "The most important piece of advice would be to make yourself familiar with the privacy settings on social networking sites. In the digital age, it's important to manage your online reputation."