Weighing Up Online Personal Expression And Professionalism

Now, more than ever, young people are constantly reminded of what they post on their social media channels. In some ways, our online identity is just as, if not more, important than how we portray ourselves in real life.

As a teenager I actually remember having ‘life lessons’ at secondary school where teachers would nag you about how important it was to be professional online. That was more than 10 years ago now, so has anything changed? 

Should you be sharing photos of yourself online?

Last year, at 23 years old, I had my first experience of judgement within the workplace. As someone who openly advocates for self expression and positivity, I didn’t think expressing myself online would cost me my job. I uploaded a photo of myself in some new underwear neatly captioned ‘self love Sunday’. 

Thinking nothing else of it, I carried on about my day. However, this was quickly raised to my employer, by another employee, and I found myself having to justify my actions. I stood my ground and argued that I hadn’t crossed any professional boundaries. But, they disagreed. Less than a month later I left. It was truly a month of hell. I felt dirty and embarrassed. Even though I knew I had no need to feel that way, I did. It completely took me back and knocked my confidence.

This experience left me wondering just what is acceptable to post online? Should I not be sharing photos of myself? Would my employer have acted differently if I shared a photo in a bikini rather than in underwear? Was I really in the wrong for sharing a positive outlook on my own appearance?

With the world of content creation and influencers growing faster than ever, it does feel like you can show more of yourself online. While LinkedIn is still regarded as a formal, entrepreneurial community, apps like TikTok show how easy it is for young people (and new businesses) to promote themselves. In fact, most businesses are actually advised to show a more human-side to their brand or product. We all love seeing the behind the scenes as much as we enjoy the company themselves!

Likewise, feminist and body positivity movements continue to convey to us that we should all be able to share content online without fear of judgement. But is there a limit to how much of ourselves we should share online? We have all heard stories of women losing their jobs after they have shared body positive or adult content on their private social media channels.

In my opinion, it says a lot more about an employer than it does for an employee, when we see cases like these arise. Not only is it extremely derogatory to assume that what someone does within their personal time impacts their capacity and position at your workplace. But, also, it is shocking how many people take up side hustles alongside working full time in order to sustain themselves or their family. 

Living in a world where nurses, teachers and retail employees have no other choice than to work a second job is horrible. That is not to say that those who choose to earn money online have no choice, because they do. It is just sad that workplaces do not value employees enough to pay them what they are worth. 

Empowerment or embarrassment?

Many employers will take the time to search your social media account. In fact, Deanna Figurito, a leadership and employment coach, says that often employers will look at your online profiles with the hope to get to know you better. With that in mind, are there still limits to what you should and shouldn’t post online? Only last year we saw the amount of racially-aggravated abuse non-white England football players received after their loss at the Euro’s.

In March 2022, the UK Government introduced the Online Safety Bill which aims to give more power to social media platforms to police online content. It also sees that those posting harmful content online can be held legally accountable. 

While I'm sure the majority of the country would condemn derogatory, racist or stigmatising content, it’s definitely still out there. Where do we draw the line of what is acceptable to share online and what isn’t? Figurito goes on to say, “Personally, I don’t think that content surrounding body positivity should come into the process of hiring as it doesn’t effect the candidates ability to fulfill the role. However I think it should be understood that what you choose to post online may effect your job opportunities, even if it shouldn’t be that way.”

While some employers may find body positive content empowering, others will still think it is inappropriate. Unfortunately, this leaves many, including myself, feeling worried about what to share online. I am constantly second guessing myself over whether my content is ‘employer-friendly’. Even though I love sharing positive and empowering content, I am now nervous when I do so. That’s not right. I should not be worried about sharing images of my own body, and neither should employers. Employers should be more worried about current, and potential, employees who share discriminating content online than those who show their bodies.


Written by Katie Alexander 

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