Facebook ban at Portsmouth City Council defended by HR chief

Chris Mordue, partner at Pinsent Masons, says the interesting feature of this case is that the Council has looked at the aggregate picture rather than focusing on individual behaviour.

The head of HR at Portsmouth City Council has rushed to defend the organisation’s decision to ban Facebook for all employees.

The body outlawed the social networking site for its 4,500 staff this month after it discovered they clocked up 572 hours – the equivalent of 71 working days – on the site in just four weeks.

But employers have previously been warned that banning the site outright risks making them look ‘old-fashioned’, particularly as young people have admitted they use the site to forge business relationships and communicate with peers.

Kay White, head of HR, told Personnel Today: “As a local authority we are guardians of public money and have to been seen to use the public purse wisely. The recent review of internet policy was partly prompted by questions from staff wanting clarity about what websites were appropriate to visit.

“Far from being perceived as an out-of-touch organisation, we in fact understand that most staff wanting to access social networking sites do so via their own personal technology, such as ipods and mobile phones, and their use isn’t restricted.”

White added that where business areas had reasons to use the site for marketing purposes, the restrictions would be lifted.

Last year a Personnel Today/Charles Russell poll of 226 HR practitioners found 8% were concerned about site usage and were planning an outright ban. Some organisations already had a policy of only allowing staff to access such sites outside core business hours (26%).

White said: “Taking the decision to restrict social networking sites isn’t a radical move – many organisations, both public and private, have policies regarding restricted internet use. In fact many of our employees have said they were surprised social networking sites weren’t already banned.”

However, she conceded that on average, employees only used this site for six minutes per month throughout the year.

“Portsmouth City Council staff work extremely hard, and this is reflected by the average figure of six minutes per month each member of staff might spend on facebook.”

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