Some people seem to revel in finding ways of exploiting processes and technology to get into trouble. If the aforementioned people are your employees, you will probably get dragged into it too. It’s never been easier to have a public voice (even when what’s being said isn’t really worth hearing) and there have been many cases of employees sniping at or about their employers, colleagues, clients and third parties via social media. Social media places us all in a glasshouse – and you know what they say about glasshouses and stones.
Last month there was a bit of a storm in a teacup over the “open letter” sent to her CEO Jeremy Stoppelman by Talia Jane a Yelp employee (now a former employee). It was filled with a number of grievances. She complained that low wages and high rent means she could barely afford public transport to travel to work, and ‘luxuries’ such as bread. In her letter, she claimed that 80 percent of her income went toward rent, and that she was forced to eat rice for meals and sleep under piles of blankets because she couldn’t afford groceries or her heating bill.
The story went viral and there’s been a mixed response. Some have castigated Talia Jane as selfish, self-occupied and unrealistic. One comment was: "Don’t complain about a situation you put yourself in. Yes, moving to one of the most expensive areas for a minimum wage job was your decision." Others have been rather more sympathetic.
While preserving a dignified silence is much wiser (never burn bridges!),venting on social media is becoming more common. Whatever the truth of the matter, public rants can cause problems. Before the advent of social media, if an employee left and talked negatively about an employer, it didn’t have much impact, if any. Today the existence of sites like Twitter, GlassDoor and Linkedin, etc. mean companies have to consider what former employees say.
One area where social media complaints by employees can cause problems is recruitment. There is a skills shortage already. Currently 30% of skilled professionals in the UK are over the age of 50 and are likely to retire or cut back their hours over the next 20 years or so. There is a shortage of work-ready good quality skilled people. Indeed, there’s a shortage of good quality raw material.
While you will probably do some research into prospective candidates, they are also likely to will research your company online before they apply. It would be unfortunate to lose the ideal candidate because of undesirable information they’ve found about you online. For example, we’re now aware that Yelp allegedly don’t pay their employees enough to maintain a basic standard of living. Factual or not, we now associate the contents of the letter with the company.
Prevention is better than cure. Consider the following to limit the risk and reduce damage from social media sulks.
- Talk to your employees regularly; see this as pre-damage control. If employees feel that they are being listened to and their views properly considered they are less likely to feel the need to share their grievances in public, and will raise them internally instead. Allow for an open environment where employees feel they can speak up on any issues that may be affecting them.
- Set out your expectations of standards of conduct. Provide a framework for the protection of confidential information and guidance on what conduct will be considered to be so serious that employment can be terminated.
- Have a social media policy, which makes it clear that the company reserves the right to formally explore comments on social media which identify or discuss the employer (or any of the employer’s employees) negatively or inappropriately.
- Make your employees aware of your grievance procedure, which sets out how employees should raise grievances and complaints.
- Teach your employees the value of self-discipline and discretion. It may be out of style at present, but it’s a valuable life skill. There are times when speech may be silver, but silence is golden.
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