The rise of social media and its prolific use has implications for workplaces of all sizes, including dental practices. By Clea Sherman
For one South Australian dental practice, the pitfalls of social media hit home after a group message incident.
A small business with a close-knit team, the staff at the practice found it helpful to use Facebook Messenger to share work-related information. This approach unfortunately backfired when an employee shared an opinion that wasn’t meant for the whole team to read.
Messaging the wrong person or group is a very easy mistake to make and one most of us have made over the years. But when the workplace is involved and the comments are not complimentary, the fallout can be distressing.
As the practice’s team leader ‘Shelley’ (not her real name) explains, “When something is inadvertently shared, it puts an air of distrust through the practice, even though that’s not what was intended. This small mistake made by a team member served to break trust and ended up being very disruptive.”
Social media is now ubiquitous and has blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives.
As many individuals and businesses are learning the hard way, as well as having the power to improve communication and efficiency, platforms like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp can wreak havoc with workplaces and employees.
At the grand end of the scale of social media drama, there is the much-watched Israel Folau case. The prominent rugby player was sacked for the personal views he shared online, on the grounds he breached Rugby Union’s Code of Conduct.
There is also a recent case of a public servant anonymously posting tweets criticising her employer (in this case the Federal Government). The worker’s case went all the way to the high court, which gave the ruling that her dismissal was justified.
These cases may not seem relevant to a neighbourhood dentist or even a franchise of dental practices, however the precedents set have the potential to affect businesses of all sizes.
Setting the boundaries
HR specialist Kim Nicholson works with small businesses, including dental practices.
“From an employer’s perspective, you need to be clear and careful when it comes to social media,” Nicholson, who is director of ACS HR Consulting, explains. “A social media policy is now a must-have.”
A dental practice social media policy should outline how social media is defined, for example, how it applies to blogging and posting online. It should be explicit about the sharing of information and the use of personal and company devices including smartphones and laptops.
The policy you implement at your practice needs to cover areas such as who is authorised to speak on the business’s behalf on social media and whether or not employees can endorse clients or suppliers on social platforms. There should also be rules around employees making comments which may have a negative impact on their employer’s reputation.
Guidelines for social media will also cover its use during business hours. For example, staff may be prevented from accessing Facebook or Twitter while they are at work, or they may be asked to only access these platforms on their own devices during their breaks.
Nicholson advises, “If you don’t have a policy in place, introduce one asap and make it clear. Use a legally drawn-up document and tailor it to your requirements. People may not like it but if you do have to let somebody go because of social media comments, having a clearly communicated policy in place will ensure a dismissal process is less likely to be challenged in court.”
Communication is also key. “Share your policy across your practice; don’t just add it to the website. I recommend you get staff to sign the policy when they first start working with you alongside their other documentation. For existing staff, send out an email communication that has the policy attached with a note that states you assume their acceptance of the policy unless they specifically come back to you with any concerns.
“Be clear on who the policy applies to, such as full-time staff, casuals and contractors,” Nicholson adds, “And work with a professional who can give you advice and also make sure your policy is legally compliant.”
From the top
The Australian Dental Association’s policy statement on social media reminds dentists at all levels to be vigilant about what they share online. It recommends dentists ensure they and dental practice staff are educated in the use of social media, stating: “They should keep professional and social spheres separate and conduct themselves professionally in both.”
Patient privacy is another key area to consider when it comes to social media. Patients must give their consent before you share photos or information about them.
The Australian Dental Association’s website has resources you can refer to for more details.
When it comes to any professional’s personal reputation, Nicholson recommends extreme caution. “Social media never goes away; it stays on the record. It goes back to the basic rule, if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say it.
“If you have a problem with someone in the workplace, putting it in writing and posting it on social media can be taken the wrong way and increases the risk of issues such as dismissal, bullying, harassment or defamation, not to mention potential damage to your own brand and reputation as an employer.”
The Facebook Messenger incident at Shelley’s practice prompted a switch to Slack, another messaging channel. Using this different platform makes it easier for employees to keep personal and professional conversations separate.
Unfortunately, the fallout of the incident did result in a written warning and the employee eventually making their own decision to leave. “Because we had never had anything like it happen, it was a big learning curve,” explains Shelley. “We wanted to work through it but sadly it was too hard to come back from.”
Kim Nicholson concurs. “[There is] always an element of human error in play with such technologies. Encourage your staff to stick to work-related conversations online and don’t forget to lead by example.”