In the March 29, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader goes up against her boss and wonders how to stay out of trouble.
My boss just told us that it’s mandatory for us to join a closed LinkedIn group, on which she will give us work assignments — for instance, shared reviews of resumes or other documents or topics that she feels will enhance our knowledge by group sharing.
I have no problem doing this via work e-mail, but to be forced to join a social media group — where what we post can be mined, according to one of my clients — is tantamount to agreeing to LinkedIn’s terms and conditions, none of which I have been able to see.
Maybe I’m being cynical, but I think that my 30-something boss wants to make a splash for her own career via becoming the leader of a LinkedIn group. I don’t know if she has thought this through.
I am also concerned for my own professional status. Frankly, I don’t know what behaviors the 20-somethings in the group are up to, and I’m not sure I want to be linked publicly to them. My co-workers are spread across the country, and I’ve never met some of them. Those that I’ve met (only virtually) I barely know.
I just un-joined the group. Who comes first? My boss or my company?
LinkedIn is not an online work collaboration platform, though I know this social networking site has experimented with the idea. There are many good collaboration systems that your boss could use (Microsoft Office 365, Google For Work, Slack) but this isn’t one of them.
I don’t think you’re being too cynical. Your guess about your boss’s motivations for getting you all into a LinkedIn group could be correct – she may be trying to build her network. More important, I think you’re right to worry about your company.
Information you and your co-workers post on a LinkedIn group would likely be mined and sold by LinkedIn. Your boss may not realize that this could have serious privacy implications, including violation of your company’s confidentiality and intellectual property policies.
Check your boss
I don’t know how big your company is, but I’d consider paying an in-person visit to HR. Without mentioning your boss or this project, I’d ask:
“If I wanted to set up an online collaboration area where my co-workers and I and our clients could post and exchange company documents that we can all work on, would company policy permit that? I’ve come to you because I’d never do anything like this without first checking the policy.”
My guess is HR will tell you, No way!
Then you have to find a diplomatic way to tell your boss. Or to tell HR what your boss is up to.
One way to do this might be to explain to your boss that you spoke to HR because you wanted to know the policy about how you should register on LinkedIn for this project since you’d be posting company work. That’s a legit concern that has nothing to do with you thwarting your boss.
Then you’d probably have to explain to your boss: “It turns out HR is worried about something far bigger: confidentiality of company data.” Then your boss can save face, drop the whole idea, and possibly avoid getting fired, too.
Suggest some alternatives
Quickly research some of the mainstream collaboration platforms available to your company, including free ones. Take a look at Microsoft Office 365, Google For Work and Slack. When you talk to your HR department, ask whether any of these are approved for company use. Then mention these to your boss. If her real goal is collaboration, you may save the day.
My guess is that your boss is merely very naïve. Putting your concerns about your own privacy aside, I think your bigger worry should be potential violation of your employer’s policies about proprietary and company confidential information being disseminated on the Internet. That liability would be on you. And that’s not to say your personal information wouldn’t be compromised, too. LinkedIn has been in some serious legal controversies concerning misuse of customer information. (See LinkedIn Users Sucker-Punched by Wrong References and LinkedIn: Busted for U.S. wage law violations, sued for “injury” to users.)
LinkedIn is not a collaboration system, where company and user data is protected, so I don’t know how your boss got this idea. LinkedIn is a public sewer of personal information and misinformation, in addition to being a potentially useful database about people. (Yes, I think it’s both. LinkedIn needs to clean up its act.)
You can see my cynicism. And I understand yours. I think you can help your boss by suggesting that LinkedIn be used the way it’s intended — or in whatever way makes most sense to your company — and by getting your HR department’s blessing before posting company information online.
Have you ever had to buck your boss to protect yourself or your company? How did you do it? Was HR helpful? Where should an employee draw the line when instructed to do something questionable?