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Social Media Portal interview with Adrian Wakeling at Acas

Tim Gibbon (Social Media Portal (SMP)) - 08 September 2011

Profiled - Acas - The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service

An interview with Adrian Wakeling, Senior Guidance Manager, Acas on its newly released social media guidelines and the role of Acas

Social Media Portal (SMP): What is your role at ACAS?

Adrian Wakeling(AW): I'm a Senior Guidance Manager, at Acas. I am responsible for writing good practice guidance on a wide range of employment topics.

SMP: Briefly, tell us about ACAS, what is it, and what does it do?

AW: Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. We aim to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. We help with employment relations by supplying up-to-date information, independent advice and high quality training, and work with employers and employees to solve problems and improve performance.

SMP: Earlier this month, Acas launched social media guidelines for UK businesses.  Can you tell us a little about what they are exactly and what do they strive to achieve?

AW: Most of us recognise that we are experiencing a digital revolution – with almost six out of ten employees now using social media tools at work – but most employers are unclear how to manage such rapid changes in the way people interact and behave at work. The new Acas guidance aims to give employers and employees some clarity about how they manage the use of social media tools in five key areas – recruitment, discipline and grievances, data protection, bullying and managing performance.

SMP: What was the most challenging part of creating the guidelines and how did you overcome them?

AW: Our challenge was to try and create a greater consensus about what is acceptable behaviour at work when it comes to the use of social media. We were lucky to be able to draw on recent research (opens in PDF) from the Institute of Employment Studies, commissioned by Acas, highlighting emerging attitudes and problems. We drew on many of its findings, for example the report advises employers to take a "common sense stance" to regulating behaviour and to draw on "norms that might apply in non-virtual settings".Photograph of Adrian Wakeling, Senior Guidance Manager at Acas

SMP: Who are your target audience for the guidelines and why?

AW: Our target audience is any employer who is starting to question how they should manage social media at work and who needs help answering one of the following questions:

  • How do I set limits on how long an employee uses the internet at work for personal reasons?
  • Am I responsible for the views my employees express on blogs?
  • Should I intervene in reported cases of bullying between employees that take place on social networking sites?
  • What counts as gross misconduct when using social media?
  • Can I use social networking sites to screen job applicants?

Our guidance will also be of use to employees. For example, we remind them to check the security settings on their social networking sites.

SMP: Why is it critical for employers to know about these guidelines?

AW: Many employers and employees are making the most of the benefits of social networking - helping them to work more flexibly, stay in touch for longer and respond to each other more quickly – but there are pitfalls. Employers should read our guidance to avoid confusion and misunderstanding about how to work with new and evolving digital technology. It may be just a case of updating existing policies on bullying and grievances, for example, and making sure employers and employees don’t neglect face to face communication.  

SMP: How are you going to inform businesses and other stakeholders about the guidelines and keep them interested?

AW: We are reaching a lot of employers and employees through national and regional media coverage of the new guidance. We are also using our own social media profiles on Twitter and LinkedIn to engage with our customers and promoting our guidance, and the recent research, via our website.

SMP: What are the low moments of what you have been doing so far?

AW: As the guidance is new there have not been any low points so far but we know that digital technology will keep changing very quickly and the challenge will be to keep updating our advice to employers to reflect this.  

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?

AW: Acas has a panel of employers who read and comment on our material in draft form before it is published. This panel has helped keep us focused and keep the advice practical and relevant so it’s definitely been a high point working with them.

SMP: Now the guidelines are released, what do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities?

AW: As a consensus on how employers should manage social media in the workplace is only just emerging Acas will aim to contribute to the ongoing debate in an informed and balanced way.

SMP: What are the next moves for ACAS regarding social media and related technologies?

AW: We have some training events running in Acas regions and we will be looking to expand on these. We also need keep up to date with changes in use of social media in the workplace and update/review our guidance accordingly. In order to do this we’ll be looking at ways in which we can keep in touch with our stakeholders and customers and gain further insight into what they need in order to help them manage this digital revolution as it continues.

SMP: What’s the next big step for social media (and networks) in general and what impact does this have for ACAS and its stakeholders ?

AW: It is very hard to predict exactly what form the new technology will take but the line between our private and work lives is likely to become even more blurred, with the evolution of new ways of working and new attitudes towards what constitutes a working day.

SMP: What’s going to be the most interesting aspect regarding social media and technology throughout the rest of 2011?

AW: It will be interesting to get more feedback from customers at our training events on how social media is affecting them and what new challenges are emerging in the workplace.

SMP: Best way to contact you?

AW: awakeling @ - also at Twitter, LinkedIn and our website.

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

AW: Muesli and tea for breakfast, cheese sandwich for lunch (with another cup of tea)

SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?

AW: Telling you what I had for breakfast was pretty good as I am quite private about my private life. If my neighbour is reading this - I put out your bins while you were away last week and put them back again.

SMP: How many hours do you work a week?

AW: Thirty hours a week.

SMP: If you weren’t working for ACAS what would you be doing?

AW: I would, hopefully, be involved in writing in some capacity although I did do some grassroots football coaching for a few years and enjoyed working with young people.  

SMP: When and where did you go on your last holiday?

AW: Sandymouth in Cornwall, August just gone. If you’ve been you’ll know it’s the best beach in the whole world – great expanses of sand, rock pools, cliffs and tumbling surf.

SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

AW: The same as almost everyone else I guess – check my emails and drink coffee.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

AW: I’ve always fancied discovering an ancient relic in my garden or the local countryside. I don’t want to own a metal detector so I would need to be able to see beneath the ground.


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