A range of developments, including the proliferation of smart phone technology, is blurring the boundary between work and leisure and changing the workplace for good, an employment seminar was told.

Carey Olsen senior associate and employment specialist, Huw Thomas said: “The explosion in readily available social media and networking tools means that a new range of opportunities are being made available to businesses to engage with clients and employees in new and very powerful ways. However, such opportunities come with many issues and it is clear that simply blocking employees from using social networking sites using work equipment or during working hours is by no means a complete answer.

“What is also becoming clear is that many employers are struggling to get to grips with the issues. Recent research shows that 68 per cent of managers monitor employee internet activity and 56 per cent block access to particular social networks. Almost half the managers surveyed identified internet use as an issue of concern,” said Mr Thomas.

In addition, a show of hands at the Carey Olsen seminar comprising human resources, compliance and business managers, indicated that under half the audience had a social media policy in place, or had considered implementing one.

Carey Olsen employment trusts and pensions partner Siobhan Riley said: “This is not surprising. Most businesses review their policies every two or three years and two years ago some of these factors didn’t exist; it’s an emerging issue.”

The seminar concluded that businesses should be conducting a risk benefit analysis of social media tools and external social networks and this should extend across management, not be confined to just the HR or IT departments.

“Social media policies need to be sensible, dynamic and achievable and it is important to avoid over-reacting when employees commit an indiscretion with social media. The data protection implications of managers checking out candidate employees on their social networking sites and making judgements as a result can be a significant risk to a business,” said Mr Thomas.

Further issues for employees included whether or not to become social networking “friends” with managers, subordinates or work peers; where to draw the line when letting off steam about something that’s happened at work and, with the festive season fast approaching, not to post pictures of the office party on Facebook!