A generation ago, the line between “the workplace” and an employee’s “personal life” was much clearer. Workers generally discussed work-related matters in “the office”, then went home at the end of the day to tend to their personal and domestic lives.
Even when work encroached late into the evening or on a weekend, it was generally “paperwork”, completed alone in a home study or office, with no direct “connection” to the workplace available (apart from a clunky telephone with a rotary dial – remember those?!).
Nowadays, the distinction between a person’s working life and personal life is a legal and professional grey zone. Workers routinely check their work email on mobile devices as they shuttle between appointments and their children’s play dates on the weekend.
We log in while at home and on holidays “just to keep on top of things” and thereby avoid the nightmare of the 1000 unopened emails when we arrive back at the office on a Monday morning.
We post comments, share opinions, and upload photographs on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Instagram profiles which mention our profession or occupation and, in some cases, even identify our specific employer.
And of course we socialise more with our workmates these days – think Friday drinks, the birthday dinner, and the office Christmas party (note: employment lawyers are often busy in January cleaning up Christmas Party catastrophes!).
This ever-blurring line between work and play has serious consequences for both employers and employees. For example, employers face the prospect of workers’ compensation claims arising from activities conducted outside the physical workspace, but which are nonetheless undertaken in the “course of employment”.
For employees, there is the heightened risk of disciplinary action (including the possibility of dismissal) for misconduct which takes place at work-related get togethers when workplace policies – such as those which prohibit bullying or harassment – still apply with full force.
And of course, there’s also the darker side of the “connected generation”: the relentless cyber-bullying from work colleagues that can drag on into personal time late at night, on weekends, and on leave, and which can quickly damage physical and psychological health.
Australia’s employers and employees need to be much, much smarter about the risks created by our ever-more-connected society. Rolling out robust policies and employment contracts is a good start, and supplementing these with training in the workplace is even better.
After all, you may be just one tweet away from HR disaster.
Watch David's interview with Peter Switzer on this topic here.
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