It’s not easy to feature in a full page feature in the London Times’ business pages over an IT HR issue. But JP Morgan has succeeded. The 13th March 2015 edition carried just such an article by Sathnam Sanghera, titled ‘The constant struggle to retain staff is a pointless waste of time’.

The bank, it seems, has issued strict guidelines about employees’ LinkedIn profiles, banning any that describe, in any but the most uninformative words, the job or skills of the employee. has more details, but the key talking point is that Dana Deasy, who recently joined the bank as CIO (from BP), has, according to some employees, been enthusiastically pushing the bank’s LinkedIn policy. He advocates describing the bank and the employee’s job and skills only in very generic and anonymous terms, thus neatly minimising the employee’s chances of ever being approached by recruiters.

Unintended consequences

There are some valid reasons why employers should restrict company-specific content on LinkedIn and other channels. But a highly secretive approach is against the spirit of the age, probably unsustainable in the long term, and risks triggering some unintended consequences.

One consequence is that JP Morgan’s employer brand has suffered a setback. How many will want to join a company if they know that this could be the last move open to them for a while? What do they have to hide over there? Why are they so worried about IT employees wanting to leave?

And existing employees cannot be happy. Employers, it must seem, are free to advertise their openness to applicants, and to use (directly or indirectly) LinkedIn when hiring. Should this not also work in the other direction? Does JP Morgan have the integrity to declare that it will not now, directly or indirectly, use LinkedIn to recruit?

This is not just a JP Morgan issue. One or two others may operate similar policies but they have, so far, kept them out of the public gaze. That could be risky. No employer can afford to be seen as a company that, once joined, forces you out of the job market. Any IT job seeker might now usefully trawl through the LinkedIn pages of prospective employers and form their own view about how likely it is, if a job move does not work out, that they will be able to use LinkedIn to move on.

Another unforeseen consequence could be that all this is simply driven underground, or onto other social networking channels. LinkedIn is, after all, not the only show in town.

A more positive approach could be to ensure that good people will in general want to stay with you, and that if they leave they say good things about you and may even want to come back. That’s a tough task. But losing employees is not the end of the world: Sathnam Sanghera points out the advantages of actually losing employees. He’s right, but not everyone in IT has a strategic approach to these issues.

Is LinkedIn really a threat?

In recent research into how IT functions use LinkedIn, we concluded that while LinkedIn can be seen as threatening to employers, it could also be turned to their advantage. One interviewee in a blue chip company said: “I’m currently running sessions with management teams pushing them to get involved in LinkedIn and making sure their profiles are good.”  Job applicants are more likely to apply to companies if they see them as busy and confident, and can find out (through LinkedIn?) that some former colleagues work over there. A bright, open and confident approach could in the long run work so much better than a defensive ‘locked gate’ stance.

Ironically, banning LinkedIn has no personal impact on the business leaders who advocate it. They are already in headhunters’ address books. If they want to move on, they just accept a couple of invitations to speak on public platforms. Headhunters’ calls will follow. So they have ways of lining up their next jobs, and denying less senior staff a similar mechanism seems unfair. And a doubly strange thing to see happen in a sector that believes so strongly in free markets.

 Iain Smith is director at Diaz Research