I was browsing the short-term rental site airbnb.com the other day when a pop-up informed me that the owner of one of the properties was a friend of friend! It was surprising, but then again, I wasn’t surprised. Why? Because privacy is dead. In the era of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, data mining, and company-specific chat rooms and social media, just about everything we say or do becomes public record at some point in time. If you don’t believe me, just ask Anthony Weiner. The toothpaste is out of the tube, and it’s not going back in.
That said, there have to be some boundaries, particularly in the workplace. It’s creepy to think your employer is poring over your “private” life on Facebook. And for leaders, there’s a real danger in free-clicking employees spreading proprietary information or badmouthing your company or employees.
How do we deal with this thorny issue of Workplace Privacy? Here are 5 suggestions:
1) Be careful! Since we all know privacy is dead, think twice about what you post, write or send. A friend of mine uses the 10-second Rule: Before posting, count to 10, reread the post making sure you’re comfortable with the contents being seen by, well, just about anyone (including your boss, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, and colleagues). If so, then send.
2) Set up a firewall. Leaders should make snooping in employees’ Facebook and other social media pages strictly off limits. Twenty-three states have passed laws that prohibit employers from accessing employees’ personal social media accounts. But that leaves 38 states where the issue is super muddy. Company lawyers and HR must be up-to-date here.
3) Set an example. This is an area in which leaders can have real impact through example. Engaging with social media means opening up, being transparent, and using these amazing tools to foster communication, boost morale, and improve results. But it takes some savvy to find the sweet spot between “I care” and “overshare”. Hire outside consultants to help you find the right tone and content if you need to. Hint To All: Humor helps.
4) Don’t overreact. Yes, we live in a new, open reality. But we can’t let it inhibit us. Technology is supposed to make our lives better, not instill fear in our hearts. Be yourself online, but be your best self. Don’t gossip, denigrate, or judge. Especially in work related posts, keep your current project in mind. Social media, at their best, are a blast! So please don’t go into a protective crouch.
5) Be honest. If you mess up, own up. This applies to leaders and employees in equal measure. At some point in our lives, we’re all going to make a social media faux pas (or worse). Admit it immediately and apologize to those affected. And then move on. We’re all human and that’s a beautiful thing.
The rules have changed. Privacy is dead. We live in a new, open world. It requires some skills to navigate this emerging landscape. Mastering it is a necessity for success.
A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 09/22/2013.