Straddling the Line Between 'Personal' and 'Professional'


At what point does someone's personal life morph into his professional life – and vice versa? Prior to the advent of mobile technology and social media, the answer to this question was fairly clear-cut. A professional life took place at a formal workplace, during normal office hours. And a personal life happened outside those confines.

These waters have muddied considerably in recent years.

For many of us, "work" now happens at many venues and all hours, both on employer-owned and personal-owned devices. And a person's social network gives her an influential platform for sharing real-time details about all aspects of her life with anyone and everyone.

Businesses are challenged to solve the riddle of if/how to limit what their employees share within their social communities.

Enacting (and enforcing) a social media policy can help curtail activity on company-owned equipment and media assets. But what about updates shared on a personal Facebook profile? Comments on a friend’s blog? An article link posted on Twitter?

That’s where the terrain gets fuzzier.

Even if someone uses a personal smartphone and doesn’t directly identify his employer, that person still may be associated with a particular company or role. As a result, his comments may be construed to formally or informally represent the company. The potential reputational – not to mention legal – liabilities can be daunting.

And with the continued proliferation of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) programs, the scenario just keeps getting murkier and murkier.

The Elusive Employee Should an employer have the right to control what and where someone expresses herself while “off the clock”?

It’s a slippery slope, and a vexing issue for businesses. As individuals increasingly blur the distinction between their personal and professional lives, the rules governing them become more difficult to enforce – or flat-out irrelevant.

Thankfully, most organizations have progressed beyond the lunacy of burying their heads in the sand or attempting to fully control the social activities of their employees (as if that were even possible anymore).

But they continue to grapple with the notion of how to give their people the freedom to express themselves while not sharing content or perspectives that jeopardize the organization and its mission.

While there's no definitive blueprint for effectively balancing these priorities, here are a few common-sense touch points for navigating these thorny areas:

- Hire mature, responsible individuals.

- Equip them with clear, sensible guidelines for engaging with social media.

- Empower them to do their jobs and make thoughtful decisions.

- Hold them accountable for their activities.

- Reevaluate policies and protocols regularly to accommodate the quickly evolving technological and cultural landscape.

One thing is certain: individuals will increasingly expect employers to provide them with the resources, technology and support that allows them to actively participate in social communities, both within and beyond the workplace.