A Disservice to Public Sector Staff

This is a bit of an adjunct to my last post on Social Media, Identity and Personality. And, I am about to make some sweeping generalisations. The rule about generalisations is that they are always wrong. Still, here goes, any way.

Next week is the 31st March. That is the end of the financial year for most public sector organisations, and so, it is the date on which many of the people who are being made redundant through public expenditure cuts will be spending their last day at work. The Our Society network, of which I am a Co-Founder, will be marking this at our “A Big Society Reality Check” event on that very day. Thus, there are going to be a lot of new people looking for work at a time when the promised growth in private sector employment has yet to materialise to compensate.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I have been very frustrated at the number of times I have come across restrictive network policies in public sector organisations which prevent their staff from accessing social media. This is a generalisation, I know there are lots of bodies that do allow access, and which consequently use it in innovative ways. But, as I know from direct experience, there are still far too many who impose blanket restrictions. The people who have worked in these organisations and are now being released onto the job market will be at a massive disadvantage. They have been shielded from the way the world has changed and, in my opinion, will be ill-equipped to survive in a world where success depends on working in amplified, networked ways.

These people have been done a disservice

Social Media, Identity and Personality

When I talk to people about social media, I often begin by making the point that social media is fundamentally about being social. The reaction to this polarises between people who think I am being facetious because that’s just obvious, and those who just don’t get what I mean until I explain it.

Part of the point I am making is that ┬áthe number of people who will actually “get” social media, and use it successfully in their professional / public lives is probably limited. Being able to use the technical tools is something that most people can learn without too much difficulty, but then finding the right tone of voice, and knowing what to say and when to say it, can often be beyond many. And this process is further complicated if you are part of an organisation that is trying to use social media to improve the way they do things, as that requires blending the individual’s personality (often those of several individuals) with that of the corporate entity.

While advising people at social media surgeries and in other settings, I have had people say to me things like “I need to learn to use social media, but it’s a struggle because I’m not a social person”. I have to be honest with people like that. I can show them the tools and how they operate, but, unless they learn to express themselves and their personality, their effectiveness in using them will always be limited.

And then there are the “offline” people. The people who won’t give you their mobile phone number because they don’t want to be contactable all the time. And the people whose email address you have to guess to track them down. These are people who, while they might not be total technophobes, are not alive to the possibilities offered even by the “new” technologies of mobile phones and email to enhance the way they work and keep them in touch with their professional networks. I have had people like this ask me to advise them on using social media, and I have wondered whether they are ready to make such a leap from their current way of working to the 21st Century networked world.

Many such people also fall into the category of those who think they have to put their personalities on the coat hook as they enter the office door. I fundamentally believe that the modern world means that the most successful people are those who forget the dividing line between work and the personal and bring their personality to work with them. Many people who find themselves being asked to use social media at work (and these are the people who are asked to do it, not those who volunteer) struggle because they’ve left their personality chained up on ┬áthe bike-rack outside, and bringing it into the office seems wrong to them. Perhaps we should give such people warning that one day soon they’ll be required to rummage around in the backs of drawers at home to find that personality they thought they had lost and polish it up to take it to work.