A reader writes:
We are a close-knit department and most people follow each other on social media accounts, particularly Instagram and Facebook.
I noticed that the last two times one of my direct reports called out sick, she posted photos to Instagram during the work day hours. Basically they were “selfies” of herself looking all dolled up and ready to go. The first time this happened, I let it slide and in good faith assumed that she was just reposting a photo that was taken another day. Now that it has happened again and there is somewhat of a pattern, I want to address it with her.
Do you have any suggestions on how to approach this conversation? Or if I should approach it at all? I seem to be getting mixed opinions on this – some people say it’s not my place to comment on her social media activity. The way I see it though is that regardless of whether the photos were actually taken on the day she called out sick or not, it was poor judgment on her part because she is senior in this department and most of our junior employees (who step in to cover her work when she is out) have access to her social media activity. I was alarmed when I saw the photos and I can only imagine that the junior employee who had to stay late to cover her work on those days had a similar reaction.
I know this poses a larger issue that it is not ideal for managers and employees or mentors and mentees to be social media buddies.
Oooof, this is tricky. I don’t know exactly what the photos were, but it’s important to remember that — like your initial instinct said — these could be photos from another day that she’s just posting now.
You also really, really don’t want to be in the business of policing whether employees are really sufficiently sick on sick days. If someone’s unplanned absences are causing problems, you can address that, but otherwise you either trust your employee or not, and either she does good work or not. If you don’t trust her or her work isn’t good, then those are the problems to address much more than the sick days are. So for starters, I’d be looking at those factors and letting your answers there guide the rest of this.
But you’re right that perception matters, and if junior coworkers have to cover for her and then see these photos, you risk it eroding their trust in and respect for her (as well as frustrating and demoralizing them), and you risk them getting the wrong message about how they themselves should be behaving (for example, thinking it’s okay to misuse sick leave pretty openly, even if that’s not actually what she’s doing).
I don’t think it would be out of line to talk to her about that element of it, as long as you don’t sound like you’re questioning her need for the sick day. You could say this: “I’ve noticed that a few times when you’ve been out sick recently, you’ve posted photos to social media that made it look like you were doing something else that day. I’m sure you weren’t — I realize people post photos all the time that weren’t taken on that same day, and more importantly, I trust you. But it occurred to me that junior employees who are also connected to you on social media and who have to cover your work when you’re out are also seeing these and may not have that perspective.”
And yes, it definitely does raise a bigger issue about problems when managers and employees are social media friends, but I know I have lost that battle.