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Under-35s are group most likely to criticise their bosses on social networking sites

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As social networking sites grow in prevalence in the workplace, under-35s are more likely to use them to post derogatory comments about their employers than their older colleagues.

According to a study by YouGov and Croner, 11% of online working under-35s have posted derogatory or negative comments about their boss or employer on social networking sites, compared to only 4% of over-45s.

The research reveals the extent to which social networking sites are becoming more prevalent in the workplace with 77% of 25-34 year olds using networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn to connect with colleagues (excluding their boss), and more than one in seven (15%) workers on a social network connecting to their direct boss or line manager.

But the number decreases significantly among older employees with just under a quarter (23%) of over-55s and 42% of 45 to 54 year-olds revealing they are connected with colleagues.

The findings suggest there is a divide in attitudes among internet users towards the acceptability of social networking in the workplace. 

Recent reports have highlighted the ongoing growth of social media, with Facebook alone growing from 5.5 million users in 2005 to over 350 million four years later. This number is expected to reach 600 million by the end of the year, suggesting social networking sites are here to stay.

Liz Iles, employment consultant at Croner, said: "It's clear people want to use social networking sites not only to connect with friends but to extend this network to their colleagues and even their bosses. This suggests people's attitudes towards their social and work lives are beginning to blur. As this is more prevalent among the younger generation at work, it could become a growing concern for employers who are not ready for such a change."

The research also reveals only 9% of employees are actively encouraged by their employers to use social networking sites for marketing, sales and networking purposes or new business development.

Iles added: "Some businesses have decided to take steps to embrace social networking sites and use them as a useful business resource. Many small businesses use them to promote and generate interest in their business. However, this can create a number of legal issues that must be considered, such as data protection issues and copyright infringement."

"Some employees are spending excessive amounts of time during work hours accessing social networking sites. This can be costly for employers in terms of productivity, and could amount to a disciplinary offence," said Liz. "It is really important for employers to have a clearly-worded policy informing employees what is and is not acceptable use of the internet and social networking sites.

"The posting of derogatory comments should be addressed with caution. In the majority of cases comments are made outside working hours and are only viewable by a group of friends. This can make it difficult to take disciplinary action against the employee. A number of high-profile businesses have dismissed employees for leaving inappropriate comments on internet sites, which has resulted in a finding of unfair dismissal by the tribunal. Employers need to show that they have acted fairly and reasonably, and that any decision to dismiss was not simply a knee-jerk reaction.

"Whatever the problem, it looks like social networking is here to stay and employers are advised to take a proactive stance in dealing with possible employment issues by implementing a clearly-worded policy."