‘The kids are alert’: Employed students’ experiences of and attitudes towards the use of social networking sites in recruitment and employment

Scott A Hurrell, James Richards, Dora Scholarios

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    Technical control has long been a tradition within labour process analysis. Analysis of such control typically concerns technologies and systems used within the workplace to pace, direct, monitor, evaluate, reward and discipline workers (see for example Edwards, 1979; Callaghan and Thompson, 2001). There has, however, been growing anecdotal evidence (for example in the popular press) of workers being monitored and disciplined by employers for activities on social networking (SN) sites, forums that are ostensibly outside the working environment. In parallel there has also been growing realisation, especially within practitioner literature in the UK and US, of employers using SN sites to gather information on potential recruits (see for example Broughton et al, 2011). The use of SN sites to collect information on workers and job applicants raises questions about workers’ and applicants’ privacy, the extension of employer monitoring outside of the workplace and the erosion of the boundary between employees’ work and non-work lives. Thus far little systematic academic research has been conducted on how employees directly experience the use of SN sites in the employment sphere and their attitudes towards this use. The study reported here begins to address this gap.

    The study consists of a survey of over 400 undergraduate business and management school students, with experience of employment, across 3 Scottish universities. Many UK students currently work whilst and/or before studying and the relatively young target demographic also sought to study a generation that is well versed in on-line social networking. The survey sought to establish students’ experiences of SN site use during recruitment/selection and in the workplace. Both students’ own use (e.g. using SN sites to find work or to discuss work with colleagues) and employers’ use (e.g. in screening job applicants and/or disciplining current employees for their SN site activities) were investigated. A second objective of the study was to ascertain how fair and just respondents’ believed various employer uses of SN sites to be.

    Preliminary findings suggest relatively widespread employer use of SN sites to pre-screen job applicants (reported by approximately 1/3rd of respondents) although only a minority reported that employers had actually made them aware of this screening. Fewer respondents reported that employers disapproved of activities displayed on SN sites once they were employed, although 7% -11% reported that various activities had attracted such disapproval. Nevertheless, many respondents seemed aware of the potential for employers to monitor or collect information through SN sites, with 50% -57% reporting that they managed their on-line profiles or privacy settings with potential, current or previous employers in mind. Attitudes towards the justice and fairness of employers using SN sites to monitor or collect information on job applicants and employees were generally not positive, regardless of respondents’ experiences of SN site use. Employees perceived employer action to be most unfair where employers had disapproved of activities outside of working time that had been displayed on an SN site. Respondents had marginally more positive attitudes where they had retained some control over how SN sites were used in employment - for example through proactively using sites to find work, or where they managed their privacy settings and profiles with employers in mind.

    Early findings suggest some creeping employer influence into employees’ non-work lives, facilitated through SN sites (especially during recruitment), whilst employees appeared to wish to maintain the work-life boundary on SN sites. The findings also suggest that young employees and job applicants are alert to the potential for employers to extend technical control outside of the workplace, also questioning the justice of this. Nevertheless many respondents demonstrated agency, through controlling what information on SN sites was available for employers to use, rather than passively accepting the potential for employers to monitor and collect information through this medium.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages28
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2013
    EventInternational Labour Process Conference - New Brunswick, NJ, United States
    Duration: 18 Mar 201320 Mar 2013


    ConferenceInternational Labour Process Conference
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CityNew Brunswick, NJ


    • Facebook
    • Students
    • Recruitment
    • Technical control


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