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  • The Facebook Dilemma: Applicants, Free Speech & Training

Here’s news that’s not surprising: The web world was all ablaze with conversations last week about an issue that isn’t new at all. It seems that some pundits and whatnot have discovered that many companies are asking job applicants for Facebook passwords as a way of vetting candidates. 

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. The topic is suddenly all over LinkedIn groups, twitter accounts and blogs, blogs, blogs. I may as well jump in. 

According to some surveys, roughly 50% of major employers were engaging in this practice before one applicant cried foul and found a lawyer. Many, in the wake of the outcry, are rethinking that policy. 

Personally, I file this next to urine testing and credit checks for applicants, all falling in the “do they really need to know that much” category. But as soon as I ask that question, I have trouble saying “no, they don’t.” Like all good moral quandaries, it’s hard to know exactly where to land when both sides have good points. 

Let’s look at some of those points quickly. 

On the one side, companies definitely have a stake in who they’re hiring. Companies face all kinds of liabilities based on the actions of their employees. That justifies them having some insight into applicants and their character. 

On the other side, people belong to work an average of eight hours a day. That leaves two-thirds of the day for them to be themselves, and it’s hard to tell an American he or she doesn’t have the most fundamental of rights, individualism. 

But on the one side, companies have rights to, and anyone is well-advised to look before they leap. Companies spend a great deal of other people’s money recruiting a new applicant, and due diligence in managing those investments isn’t unreasonable. 

But on the other side, there’s a little thing called the First Amendment, and the ability for someone to present a certain image of themselves is one of the things we’ve gone to war to protect. 

Let’s make the argument harder now … yep, that’s possible. 

You may hate the idea of your company looking at your Facebook page. How would you feel if they hired a Neo-Nazi to work in the cubicle next to you? 

You may hate the idea of telling an applicant you need his Facebook password. Do you want to tell some colleague’s kids that you hired the guy who brought a gun to work? 

Granted those are two pretty extreme examples, and it’s unlikely the Facebook issue would have solved anything in either case. Free speech or not, if you’re doing something illegal or immoral and writing about it on Facebook, you’re pretty much too stupid to be hired anyway. 

So we’re about 500 words into this now and I still don’t know how I feel. So let’s look at the key question for our industry: Does training have any skin in this particular game, or do we write this off as core HR and move on? 

Sorry to tell you, training is very much involved here. HR may make the hiring decision and may do the Facebook monitoring, but once that person is on board, training takes over. 

Training has to prepare the worker for productivity, monitor his/her growth and be an ongoing partner in her/his development and advancement. Training might connect the employee with coaching, place him/her in the leadership pipeline and recommend her/him as a mentor. The better the artist knows his materials, the better the art. 

In truth, training has work to do here regardless of company policy. Training is also the top level-setter for a company’s culture, so whether or not your org takes a sneak peek, training can help spread the word. If the policy needs defending or positioning, training can communicate that lesson and create an understanding and acceptance. 

In the end, this corporate issue most likely comes down to personal perspectives of individual leaders. That’s fair enough: Difficult decisions are the necessary evil of leadership. 

So where do you stand? Does your company look? Do you think they should? Maybe this question is most interesting: Does your Facebook page have the same content it did two weeks ago?

About the Author

Tim Sosbe

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