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When does social media begin to take over our lives?

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How many times a day do you look at your phone for non urgent matters? Could you survive in a world without it? The worlds of personal and workplace is blurring, therefore how much is too much?

People check their smartphones about 85 times a day according to research from Nottingham Trent University  and social media plays a huge part in most people’s lives. Social media no longer applies just to people’s personal lives; it is also now a big part of the workplace too with many professionals having LinkedIn profiles - the professional network now achieves over 60 million views in the UK every month.

A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management  also found that 84% of employers recruit via social media, and 43% of employers screen job candidates through social networks and search engines. The same study found that 36% of companies have actually disqualified job candidates after doing an online search or viewing an applicant’s social media profile.

Mounting workplace pressure

It’s no wonder then that the pressures of social media in the workplace may be adding to modern day anxiety and concern about our appearance. A recent study from the National Citizen Service  found that the pressure of looking good on social media is causing young people to experience stress and anxiety.

In my cosmetic practice, I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of patients who are concerned that the way they look is effecting their work. Concerns can range from a lack of confidence when meeting clients, pressure amongst colleagues to retain a youthful look, and worries that the ageing process will hamper their chances of getting a promotion. In addition, I have also seen many patients who are concerned that age-related facial lines or bags around the eyes are being misinterpreted by colleagues as being due to poor sleep, partying all night or other assumptions being made about their lifestyle that may jeopardise their promotion opportunities. These patients will often ask for botox, filler injections or surgery to give them a fresher look. 

And, in recent years, this anxiety has been heightened by the rise in employers using social media to access information about potential candidates and current employees. This problem is not just being felt in traditional “high powered” professions like law and business management. The pressure to maintain a good visual social media profile in the workplace now crosses almost all sectors of industry from teaching to retail – with most companies expecting employers to have a photographic or film profile on a company website, make contacts via professional networking sites such as Linked-In and use video conferencing technology on a daily basis. 

So are people just being vain or is there a real cause for concern? The truth is that as we age, our faces do change. For example, one of the earliest ageing changes is the descent and deflation of the brow, as well as lack of “volume” in the face. The loss of that former youthful look can be upsetting, especially when updating your social media profile triggers a noticeable change. For younger patients, simple non-surgical treatments such as botox or filler injections can be very effective. However, employees should be reassured, that the ageing process is perfectly natural, happens to everyone and it should never be acceptable to judge others or yourself on this basis – in particular in the workplace. Having said that, it’s natural for people and employers to want to give the right impression via their social media profile.

Tips for work based social media

My advice would be to: 

•    Give employees clear guidance on your organisations’ expectations of what images can and can’t appear on social media profiles. Ideally develop a social media policy for employees to avoid any misunderstanding and potential reputational damage to the organisation and its workforce.

•    Give employees ample notice of any new photo requirements to allow time, if needed, to prepare for the shoot.

•    Whilst very much down to personal preference, aesthetic “tools” such as good make-up and hair styling can be used to highlight and exaggerate features for photography, as well as making employees feel confident about their looks.

•    Make sure employees are comfortable and confident in front of the camera – employing a professional photographer experienced in company profiles and head shots can make the world of difference. A good photographer will make employees feel at ease and offer advice on the best pose, facial expressions and background.

•    If an employee is anxious about updating their social media profile, ensure you offer support and reassurance and give them the opportunity to discuss their worries in confidence. In some cases, employees may have a real concern about their appearance due to a specific problem e.g. extreme bags under the eyes or protruding features. 

While creating a social media profile is now commonplace at work, there is still a need to clarify your expectations of employees in this area.  Being aware of potential issues such as anxiety around physical appearance is a classic risk avoidance exercise and will ensure that employees feel supported by the HR team. If an employee does disclose a concern, it also worth signposting them to sources of reputable and professional help. In my experience, the consultation process with a potential patient can sometimes identify an underlying psychosocial issue related to body image and self-esteem, which should be addressed immediately.

Daniel Ezra

By Daniel Ezra

Daniel is a consultant ophthalmic and oculofacial plastic surgeon

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