Most UK employees have not been given clear guidance on using social media networking sites, a study has revealed.

Almost 39% of over 1,000 UK employees polled by research firm ICM said their company had no policy on social networking. A further 24% are unaware of any such policies.

Only 24% said there was some guidance on posting content to social media sites. A further 24% reported restrictions on the times they are allowed to access such sites.

Despite the lack of policy in this area, social media usage in the workplace has grown rapidly in recent years. Some 51% of respondents say they use a social networking site at work.

Almost a third of respondents use sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn on a daily basis, while more than 5% do so several times an hour.

“We’re seeing a growing number of cases where firms have vague or out-of-date social media policies that are unenforceable if inappropriate activity takes place,” said Jonathan Wyatt, managing director at consultancy Protiviti, which commissioned the survey.

“It’s extremely worrying that only a quarter of workers have been provided with any real guidance regarding the use of social media sites,” he says.

The survey found employees aged 18-24 years are the most regular users of social networking sites, with one in five claiming to use them several times an hour.

“This generational divide in the workplace poses a threat to firms with senior managers often unaware of whether their company’s HR and IT policies are adequate,” said Jonathan Wyatt.

Many senior managers assume their less experienced colleagues would not post inappropriate comments online and that they would think about the risks involved, but time and time again they are proven wrong, Wyatt said.

Protiviti recommends organisations establish clear policies targeted at issues specific to social networking. These might include guidelines on sharing photographs from corporate events and blogging. Protiviti says organisations should also review all their HR and IT policies, as many have become out-dated in the era of social networking.

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