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Text Messaging In The Practice: What You Should Know

Texting has been commonplace in our culture for years but text messaging in a professional setting is a relatively new concept. Many of our division managers and doctors use text messaging as a way to communicate with employees. However, employers should consider whether the benefits of text messaging outweigh the risks, particularly the human resources implications of this practice, before one hits “send.”

Text messaging can be a convenient way to communicate with your employees and for them to communicate with you. It is a quick, easy to use and trackable form of communication. However, texting can be risky for all of those same reasons.

Pros. We live in a fast-paced society and all of our lives reflect that quick information standard that is fueled by sophisticated technology, the Internet, and 24-hour news media. We are addicted to information and we want it now, as in yesterday! Sitting down at a computer and writing an e-mail takes time, and having a face-to-face conversation takes time. Meanwhile, texting takes five to 10 seconds. When you want to know where an employee is or where he or she put that file, it is so convenient to shoot off a text message and have your answer almost immediately.

Everyone has a cell phone. Three-year-olds use cell phones. Just about everyone knows how to text. I recently saw an episode of The People’s Court in which the defendant claimed that she didn’t know how to text, only to then admit that she talks into her phone to write the texts and sends them that way. It is an easy form of communication because we all have the little devices in our pockets and we know that the receiver of our message also has a little device in his or her pocket.

Cons. All forms of communication have their own challenges. We all know that face-to-face or phone communication is best, even though it has its own share of noise. E-mail clarity can be challenging and text messaging also has its share of challenges. How many times have you sent a text and the recipient had no clue what you were talking about? It could possibly be due to the infamous autocorrect, just not understanding your shorthand or simply not receiving the message in context.

At the very least, messages can be frustrating when you don’t understand the message the sender is relaying. At the very worst, the sender can inadvertently say something that he or she didn’t intend, something that can be interpreted as offensive or something that can be downright illegal. A word to the wise: keep texting to a minimum on a “as needed” basis, make sure you are proof-reading your texts and never send protected health information (PHI) though a text message.

Recognizing Texting As A Trackable Form Of Communication

Pros. If someone sends you a text, you have that text forever until you delete it. If you screenshot it, you can use it as a trackable proof of communication.

Cons. In my professional opinion, we haven’t really thought text messaging through as a society. The proof is in the lawsuits. Did you know that text messaging is an acceptable form of evidence in a court of law? Did you know that things you say through text message could hold up in court as a verbal (or even written) contract? Did you know that there is now a coined term of “textual harassment?”

Text messaging can lead to serious employment issues, including discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims. Many times, we are willing to say something or send something through a text message that we would never say in face-to-face conversation or even send through facility-provided E-mail.

Many times, we may not be aware of the implications behind what we think are innocent texts. For example, you send a seemingly innocent text to an employee following his or her doctor’s appointment to check on the employee and see if he or she is okay. The employee, unfortunately, could interpret that as a violation of privacy. You should always avoid asking an employee questions about his or her medical history, diagnosis, or treatment. There are things you can ask an employee: “Do you need to take a medical leave of absence? Would you like FMLA forms? Can you provide a doctor’s note?”

Another thing to keep in mind is that just because you sent a text message, it does not mean that the message was received. For example, an employee is late for work one day and you text to see where he or she is, but that employee never responds. You become frustrated due to the no-show, only to later find out that he or she never got your text message. Or worse, something was drastically wrong. He or she may be in the hospital and you have no idea because you never bothered to try to call the employee personally, or his or her emergency contact.

Final Notes

In conclusion, it is prudent for us to address the practice of texting employees and make sure we are following best practices. It is advisable that text messaging between managers and employees remain at a minimum, and that one only use texting when truly necessary. It is much better to have a conversation with an employee or even send an e-mail rather than sending a text. In a heated situation or a frustrating moment, it is always best to wait and allow tempers to cool before engaging in any form of communication.  

Ms. Diegert is the Human Resource Manager for InStride Foot and Ankle Specialists in Concord, N.C.

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By Adrienne Diegert, SHRM-CP
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