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How Should Employees Mourn In the Age Of Social Media?

In hindsight, I realize that I completely overlooked the use of social media in yesterday's post about discussing national tragedies at work.

To be honest, offering tips for social media use in the context of tragedy and grief simply didn't cross my mind because it's not something that I would do. To me, using Twitter and Facebook to mentally process a national tragedy feels akin to shouting "sorry to hear about your mom!" from the window of a passing car. It rings hollow to me somehow, and I'm trying to understand why. In our very public media age, I find that I still prefer to express my grief privately, offline.

It's not generational; many of my Gen X peers are sharing their feelings on the Boston tragedy in 140 characters or less and "liking" and "sharing" things related to it, while I sit lost in quiet, largely wordless, contemplation. I have trouble pressing the "like" button in the context of tragedy. I don't begrudge my friends their online expressions of grief, however. We all work through sorrow in our own way.

Maybe my Jackie O.-like need for offline privacy in these terrible moments is what attracted me to a new survey from Seattle leadership development and training firm Fierce Inc. that finds employees who get uncomfortably personal and/or opinionated on Facebook risk their job security and jeopardize their workplace relationships. Of the 800 executives and employees who participated in the Fierce survey, one in three know of a co-worker who has been "reprimanded" for posting something inappropriate on Facebook, while slightly more than half (51.1%) think that Facebook has been "ineffective" in enhancing workplace relationships.

Not surprisingly, how employees use Facebook during the workday is to blame. Fierce estimates that 40% of employees are communicating inappropriately with their co-workers on Facebook, mainly through gossiping and flirting. Such escapades haven't gone unnoticed, either: verging on one-fifth (17.9%) of employees surveyed are feeling "uncomfortable" whenever their co-workers get too personal and/or opinionated on Facebook, while more than one-fifth (22.6%) believe that Facebook is having a negative impact on their workplace productivity.

So, what does it all mean? Perhaps it means that as much as we like to think we're social media experts by now, maybe we don't really know how to use social media very well yet. We're still trying to process the whole idea of thinking out loud in cyberspace, especially during life's toughest moments. We don't know where the online boundaries and limits are, and we're doing what we feel is right for each of us. So one employee grieves publicly online while another grieves privately offline. What is the right thing to do? I don't think any of us knows the answer.

So we feel our way through it. The best that each of us can do is to think before we post, particularly in the context of grief and tragedy. Or we can decide not to post anything at all. That's okay, too. Peace.

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