How using social media can get you fired

People silhouetted against Facebook logo
Dado Ruvic | Reuters

Before you "like" your friend's status update, consider whether your boss will like all the time you are spending on Facebook.

Advancing technology has long been a catalyst for change in the workplace, in good ways and bad. Now social media is raising the stakes by disrupting the way we work, or don't work, as the case may be.

"Social media is booming with networking opportunities and the chance to share your accomplishments," said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. "But it could also lead to the end of your career if used incorrectly."

In fact, 28 percent of employers report that they've fired people for using the Internet for non-work-related activity (such as shopping online or checking out Facebook, for example) during the workday and 18 percent have dismissed employees because of something they posted on social media, according to CareerBuilder.

"To expect someone to maintain focus for eight hours straight is unreasonable," countered Suzana Flores, author of "Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives." "People need a break and, in today's world, that break includes social media access."

The question is what constitutes a break: One in 4 workers admitted that, during a typical workday, they will spend at least an hour on personal calls, emails or texts, according to a separate CareerBuilder survey. Twenty-one percent estimated that they spend an hour or more surfing the Web, browsing photos and so on.

According to the U.S.Chamber of Commerce Foundation, people also typically spend one hour of their workday on social media. Millennials are even more attached, spending 1.8 hours on such sites.

But other reports have shown that more limited use of social media can actually boost productivity. The majority of millennials said that an employer's provision of state-of-the-art technology was an important factor when considering a job.

A whopping 78 percent of millennials even said that access to the technology they like makes them more effective at work, according to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Some companies have benefited from offering designated social media breaks — perhaps two or three breaks lasting 15 minutes each — during the workday. This downtime can give your mind a much-needed rest and poise you to be more productive with the rest of your time, Flores said.

"My advice to corporations is don't restrict or overmoderate [social media usage at work], but you can limit it," she said. "And also have in place policies and procedures that will protect the integrity of your company."

Having clear policies about social media is the best practice for employers, Haefner added. "Because employees have their own mobile devices in the workplace, blocking access to social sites via your company networks won't stop employees from engaging in the same behavior that blocks were designed to prevent," she said. "The best thing to do is set guidelines and expectations."

More important than how much time is spent on social media networks is how it is spent. It may only take one thoughtless post or tweet to ruin your reputation and damage your career — regardless of when it's published.

"Whether using social media in the workplace or not, it's important to keep your personal brand appropriate and make sure [what you post is] something you'd feel comfortable with your employer seeing," said Haefner.

Only say or share things online that you'd be comfortable saying or sharing with your boss and colleagues in person, Flores said. She recommends being cautious about whether to friend co-workers on Facebook and suggests not befriending your managers online at all. And be sure to keep your privacy settings tight.

Still, "privacy on social media networks is an illusion," Flores said. "But people are treating these platforms like their personal diaries, venting about work or other problems. Or they want people to have their backs, and it's normal for people to seek validation, but it's the public nature of these sites that gets them in trouble."

Disrespectful behavior — whether displayed online or off — is still what is most likely to get you fired. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter aside, you're much more likely to get sacked for being chronically late for work than for anything you do on online, according to CareerBuilder.

Other top reasons employees get fired, according to Haefner, are refusing to follow directions, sexual harassment, engaging in office gossip and of course, performing poorly on the job.