An Indianapolis-based firm announced they had rejected a candidate for an internship. They even explained the mistake: he left a message on Twitter that made it seem like he was goofing off at his current employer.
Obviously, it’s impossible to know the full circumstances from such a limited amount of information. We don’t know if Laycoax merely received an application or if the candidate was already interviewed in person, but it is clear that the words “I’m so productive at work” were interpreted as sarcasm. Laycoax clearly assumes that this individual is wasting time at their current employer and bragging about it, and she is using that information to disqualify the candidate.
We can readily jump to the defense of the accused. Perhaps his current job involved writing movie reviews, so watching the classic 1980 film Caddyshack is a required workplace task. Or maybe the company was rewarding his past efforts and had encouraged him to take some leisure time at the office. There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation for why he was enjoying a Bill Murray comedy while joking about productivity.
However, most people likely sided with Laycoax. On Twitter, she went on to explain that “We have enough on our plates… Def[initely] don’t need to stay on top of someone to make sure they aren’t slacking.” Laycoax also noted that “Small biz & entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. We work too hard & can’t carry someone that doesn’t display that work ethic.”
Laycoax explains her technique and rationale: “I Googled his name…Same thing I do with anyone that inquires. Like to make sure people will mesh well & be dedicated.” Laycoax was not unusual in this regard. Checking out applicants online is commonplace, as has been reported by the Seattle Post-Intellegencer and the Chicago Tribune.
Certainly the practice is ethical. Messages on Twitter, Facebook and other websites are generally public knowledge, so employers can use them to screen candidates. The question is whether or not it is advisable.
While we don’t know all the details, we can surmise from Laycoax’s comments, and our own practical experience, that employees who appear to boast about wasting time at work are probably prone to do so. However, the opposite is not necessarily better: individuals who do not advertise that they are goofing off may in fact just be better at concealing their laziness. They may also be fearful of being misinterpreted and thus are consciously maintaining two lives: one that is work-safe and another that reflects their true personality.
None of these possible scenarios are really that advantageous. Candidates who talk about being unproductive are certainly unproductive at times, but they are also honest. Candidates who don’t admit to being unproductive might be tremendously efficient, but they also might be sneaky or paranoid. Are any of these hypothetical character traits really that superior?
Most powerful of all is the evidence that goofing off at work actually improves worker productivity. Of course, watching movies all day long is certainly an exception to these findings. Boasting that your employer is paying you to do nothing could be a sign that you lack motivation. However, taking short breaks does increase productivity. Employees who feel they have authority, responsibility and autonomy are more generally more effective because they are not worried about being micromanaged which affects employee productivity. There’s far more power in rewarding results than in marking time which lowers employee satisfaction.
Did Nicki Laycoax and Squish Designs make the right decision by disqualifying this candidate? Probably. They live in a fast-paced work environment focused on the Internet, web development and social media, so individuals that could be construed as lazy might be bad for their image. But it’s also poignant to note that although Laycoax attempted to obfuscate the applicant’s name with a black box, a quick visit to Twitter’s search engine reveals his identity. If the offhand comments of the candidate reveal that he is lazy, does Laycoax’s own short message—which only partially masks the identity of the accused—reveal a sliver of carelessness or a lack of technical knowledge in the same area where she issued her judgment?
It is difficult to say, but we can fairly assert that significant business decisions tell us as much about the target as they do about the decision-maker. Laycoax was clearly uninterested in candidates who boast about wasting time at work and she provided good rationale for her actions. She was also devoted to sharing her thought process with the world by broadcasting it online. She was prepared to make some effort to conceal the name of the rejected individual, but is unwilling, unable or perhaps not conscientious enough to fully protect him.
Should employers disqualify candidates after reviewing their digital footprints? If doing so reflects the culture of the organization and their interaction with customers, absolutely. Should they share this policy with potential candidates? Possibly: it’s common knowledge that employers will Google you, but it never hurts to emphasize how applicants will be evaluated. Should firms publicly announce when and why a candidate is rejected? Only if they are certain that the individual cannot be identified.
At AccelaWork, we help organizations work through these challenges. To increase employee productivity, we must also increase employee satisfaction. This may require better filtering techniques during the hiring process, but also changes to culture, language and workflow. If this story sound familiar or inspires questions, contact our consultants at AccelaWork. We’re here to assist you in working smarter.