to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond

Tip #25 — WATCH OUT FOR SOCIAL MEDIA

It’s hard to keep up with the number of social media bungling that gets people into deep, deep trouble. I’d list them here, but by the time you’ve read this, many, many more will have hit the media. While I was concerned about Rosanne Barr’s racist tweets, I wasn’t that concerned about her losing her TV show. (I was more concerned about the many people working on the production.)

 

In the real world, away from Hollywood, there are plenty of people losing jobs, or receiving severe discipline when they post something on social media. While the “world wide web” started out as a free-flow exchange of information, with virtually no censors, that’s no longer the case. When an entire election can be negatively influenced due to social media posts, there was a realization about the need for limits on what people can say and write via the internet. And when it comes to the workplace, that’s even more-so.

 

Let me give you an example. Let’s say 30 years ago I made a disparaging comment about a colleague in a meeting at work. Let’s also add that the comment made is completely untrue – so I’m lying and possibly hurting the reputation of another person. In these “old days,” before all these electronic devices, my hurtful comments would likely only go so far, thereby inflicting a limited amount of damage. A colleague might mention it to their spouse while others might pass it along to a few friends having dinner that night. A few others might say something over a phone (remember, we’re talking “olden days” so the phone is attached to a wall). In our example, these disparaging and untrue words might do damage, but they will only go so far.

 

Whereas today, if I make the same lying and disparaging comments on social media, anyone who has access to the internet may see or hear what I have to say. And since it can be replicated to other forms of electronic media, it allows a lot of people to see or hear, therefore creating more potential of greater damage to the reputation of my colleague.

 

That is why I’ve noticed that when an employer has simple, yet solid evidence of harm to the employer’s reputation or the reputation of an employee, their severe discipline or termination of employment is more often than not upheld by an arbitrator, adjudicator or judge. Not always, but I clued in a while ago that I’m seeing harsh discipline given the thumbs up when an independent person looks at it objectively.

 

If we move away from my example, and talk about other opinions that are getting employees (from the top to the bottom) in trouble at work, I get that some people feel this is intruding on their right to speak/communicate freely. I think there’s some merit to this, but I don’t set the rules. This is the reality we’re living in and people need to think carefully before posting something that will get them in trouble at work.

 

SUPERVISORY SUGGESTIONS:

1). Talk up the risks of social media – because employees need to hear it. There is now a whole generation who has been brought up with social media and wrongly thinks they can post anything they want without consequences. Let employees know there are limits to what they can post.

 

2). Watch out for yourself – as supervisors are expected to set a better example. I see many a legal case where the actions of a supervisor are judged more harshly than a non-supervisory employee. An employee may get off the hook, or endure mild discipline for the same incident that may get a supervisor fired. Being a role model ain’t easy.

 

3). Re-read before sending/posting anything – as you’ll often catch an innocent mistake. Whether we’re talking emails or social media posts, I re-read everything I write before sending it off. It helps with spelling and grammar (and those pesky auto-corrects I don’t want) but the real benefit comes when I realize that my words may be misunderstood. Or that my humour is my own and won’t always translate well for others.

This is TIP #25 of 26 BI-WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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