Are you worried what your employees say about you on social media?
Estimated 10 minute read.
Maybe you should be. Or maybe you’ve just woken up and seen one who did.
If you’re facing or imagining posts from an angry employee airing your organisation’s dirty laundry on the Internet, then you have some idea how damaging these moments can be for a company. Luckily for you (and your employees), there are measures and protections you can put in place to reduce the likelihood of your employees wanting to go rogue.
This article is for anyone who needs a user experience (UX) understanding of social media disasters and a plan for stopping them before they happen.
In December 2017, concerned charity employee, Angela J Williams Phd, gave her workplace negative feedback about health and safety risks in the workplace in Wollongong, Australia. Her employers, a local branch of a national suicide prevention service, called in their lawyers to investigate the complaints, setting off a chain of incidents which led to Angela posting a petition on the online activism site Change.org.
This matter continues unresolved. The Change.org petition currently has nearly 2500 signatures.
Speaking from this uniquely-informed perspective, this (former) employee who went rogue on social media shares her tips on how to prevent this happening in your organisation.
These are Angela’s top eight tips to stop your employees going rogue (or tidy up after they do).
1. Widen your definition of ‘who might go rogue’.
This article is written in response to James McGrath’s recent article ‘When employees go rogue on social media’ for MYOB. Like most of the writing on this matter, the article focuses on how employers can ‘protect’ themselves from the employees who will inevitably go rogue (paraphrased) though did end by suggesting ‘a quiet word’ to employees may be the best first approach. As a person (employee) who has gone rogue on social media, I found very little that related to my experience in this article.
McGrath details those employees who accidentally reveal confidential material or who express dissatisfaction with firings or disciplinary actions. But what about those who intentionally release material about organisations, ‘whistle blowers’ so to speak?
Consider this Venn diagram:
I am that magic little triangle in the middle, and I can’t be the only one. I found the magic mix which sets off my need to speak out. And documented it so well that I’ll never hide it from future employers. All I can do now is try to learn from it for the rest of us.
I am not saying that all social media ‘disasters’ are caused by ‘work-related mental disorders’, or psychological injuries. Rather, I’m suggesting that if there are WHS risks in your company, those factors could contribute to an employee’s willingness to speak out about the risks. A person driven to desperation will eventually break, and some small percentage of those who break will do so publicly on the Internet.
I predict employers are going to be seeing a lot more ‘social media breaches’ from people who are exposed to workplace risks like bullying, are active social justice warriors inspired by recent social movements, and/or people suffering from work-related mental disorders.
For people living with past traumas, mental injuries or other ‘neuro-divergents’, the #metoo movement has encouraged us to look more critically at every aspect of our lives. The power of the individual who is willing to speak up against wrongs has never been more evident.
So, yes, if there’s broken bits or pieces in your organisation and employees who are set up to fail, then you should be worried about what they’re writing about you.
Read on to find my tips for how to support your workers once you’ve hired them.
2. Aim for zero-consequence reporting of risks.
Punishing employees for giving feedback or reporting risks makes for angry and embittered employees. Depending on the heaviness of your approach, you risk both alienating the individual employee and establishing or strengthening a workplace culture of secrecy where workers are unwilling to speak out about risks.
I spoke out publicly about the risks in my workplace because the Organisation was unwilling to engage in private about the risks I identified. When I wrote the feedback, my roles in the workplace included ‘Site Manager’ for the purposes of Safe Work certification. It was part of my job to report risks.
The organisation responded by calling in the lawyers to silence and harass me. It didn’t work because I cared more about what I was reporting than keeping my job.
As a former user of the suicide prevention line, my public disclosures were driven by both the employee’s urge to have a safe workspace and the suicidal caller’s need to have the business practices live up to its services. The risk of losing my job mattered less to me than making sure that organisation lived up to its values.
The lesson you are teaching employees with this approach is that silence matters more than their safety.
3. Mitigate risks from managers who may be bullies.
It’s not matter of sacking your managers who are bullies, narcissists or psychopaths. Just run a quick psychometric test on any new managers and then make work arounds for risky areas. Don’t let your next boss be the bully who is setting employees up for this risk down the track.
If you run or manage a business, then you know that workplace health and safety means more than just physical safety. The presence of bullies, narcissists and psychopaths in the workplace, while sometimes ‘beneficial’, is becoming more of a risk as people like myself are finding our voices.
Safe Work Australia analysed statistics for us, finding that 6% of ‘serious workers’ compensation claims’ are mental injuries related to work. A staggering 20% of these injuries are attributed to ‘work related harassment or bullying’ while the largest cluster of causes is ‘work pressure’, which includes ‘interpersonal conflicts’. This is the cost of letting bullies run free in your organisation. As bullying victims speak out, and stigma is reduced more people will report and some percentage of those reports will be public posts on social media.
You can act today to reduce future costs by identifying those managers in your workforce who have the potential to bully employees and finding a way to help them mitigate these risks.
These numbers are four years old. I suspect the next lot will be worse. Foster a workplace that is safe for neuro-divergent workers and those mentally harmed by work.
4. Be open-minded about the possibilities of social media engagement.
That awful post which your employee just put up might not be the end of existence as you know it. All social media is designed to be a two-way communication stream and how your accounts respond to engagement by employees has the potential to pay off with long-term benefits.
Forbes suggest that negative feedback on Social Media can be seen as a positive marketing opportunity, depending on the organisational response. They quote Shama Kabani, author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing:
“People are not looking for perfection online. What they’re really looking for is humanity and a genuine response, so a negative review can be a great opportunity to respond in a positive and transparent manner. And that has a good impact on all your customers.”
Upper management, those making the decisions about how to handle social media disasters, I encourage you to look at the material which has been leaked/shared/expressed and ask your selves the following questions:
- Is what the employee saying true? Any chance at all?
- Does what they say reflect more on an individual or the organisation?
- If it’s an individual, have there been any previous hints of bullying from this person?
- If it’s the organisation, are they questioning actions or inactions that clash with the stated goals and values of your organisation?
- Has this person tried to bring the information to your organisation earlier and been ignored? Reprimanded?
- Does this open dialogue present a chance for your organisation to bring their actions (or those of their managers) back in line with any breached or damaged values or goals?
- Could this go viral if you handle it right?
- Or even more viral if you handle it wrong?
Be honest here, even if it really hurts. Openness and transparency will serve you better than lies and deceit.
As a mentally ill person on workers’ compensation suffering from a workplace injury caused by workplace bullying in a branch of a national suicide intervention organisation, I have often mused over the positive spin social media stories that could have come out of this if the organisation had asked themselves some of these questions. If they’d been willing to see their duty of care and act on it…
I’m still up for conversations, Mr G, if this somehow gets in front of you. I’ve had electro convulsive therapy now, on the Insurance company’s dime, so surely I’m ‘safe’ to talk to now? On camera, of course (see my final tip).
5. Have an ‘all staff’ social media policy.
Most social media polices focus on restricting how employees engage with social media when talking to/about their employers. But imagine if they instead taught employees how the company represents itself and welcomed those who wanted the chance to contribute to the organisation’s online brand?
If your employees care enough about you to post online about it, then take it as a compliment and let them.
The social media accounts of my former employer were all managed by a single person (also my manager for a period) who maintained a tight strangle hold on the accounts. This person deleted all negative comments, refused all content suggestions and maintained a page with a little under 500 followers. By the time I exploded in January, I’d been reprimanded multiple times for posting about my job in ways that engaged the section of the community I served (and ignored by the official page).
My last warning prior to the explosion was after I posted a book on my page, which a social media friend then purchased from the organisation. She paid $50 on a book priced at $40 because ‘charity’. This was overstepping my boundaries. This was making money for the organisation.
If they’d let me, I would have posted about that charity and its great work every day. There has to be ways to let employees promote your organisation, and doing so may cut down on the chances of them going rogue down the track.
Ryan Holmes suggests employers engage employees as part of an ‘army of advocates’ on social media. His argument is that allowing willing workers access to the corporate voice is a cheap and (relatively) easy way to increase your advertising output exponentially.
The organisation I was working for are missing out on massive opportunities in the social media sphere, but you don’t have to. The article linked above has some great tips for recreating your social media policies to welcome employees in rather than shutting them out.
6. Feedback channels that go ‘up, down and across’ your organisation.
Coming in third in Forbes list of the actions of ‘outstanding employers’, having multi-directional feedback channels decreases the risks of bullying by allowing employees access to a wider range of alternatives for discussing risks, including bullying.
My complaint to the employer in December 2017 was not the first, indeed, I’d been turned away by my manager’s manager and told my concerns had nothing to do with him. That was in March 2017, way before my high-risk feedback in December. I was only allowed to give my feedback to certain people, none of who acted on it.
Having effective feedback channels should be part of every business, and is one of the cheapest and easiest of all the solutions offered here. But unfortunately, even the best feedback systems can fail if concerns are not acted on.
7. Feedback channels that go somewhere and make change.
I was not this first person who left my organisation because of the same person and the same problems. Three people exited my workplace in twelve months. As a workplace with mostly volunteer workers, this represents a 100% turnover of paid staff in that single year. In the previous five years, the same workplace has seen 3 different managers, each cycled through in eerily similar processes.
The one thing all of these exiting workers had in common was that they had tried to report risks in the workplace to upper management. Only four of us that I know of have workplace injuries related to the culture.
This is a broken workplace where feedback goes nowhere. Your organisation doesn’t need to be like that.
The digital age has obviously already thought of this problem. Several apps and programs can help you track employee sentiment, including the high end Qualtrics system.
8. If you need to conduct an investigation of an employee, make it transparent.
Maintaining a policy which gives all rights to employers to record and collect information but none for the employee establishes a sense of powerlessness in employees. They may see your lack of transparency as an attempt to further bully and intimidate them.
The ‘investigation’ by my workplace was undertaken by a ‘professional investigator’ who refused to allow me to record our discussions. By this stage, the only contact I was getting was from the lawyers who had already set a combative tone and mentioned the threat to my employment.
I said something so dangerous in my written feedback that I was instantly a threat. Lies and contradictions were already coming from the lawyer and I was outrageously and significantly insane. Literally. I was hospitalised twice in the following months, the second time for almost six weeks. I asked to record the meeting because I was reeling with disbelief at the organisation’s actions and needed the evidence of the discussion.
Not surprisingly at all, the report he submitted varied dramatically from my recollection and written notes. But they weren’t ever going to listen to me on that. He was the ’professional’.
When I gave them my feedback, I asked for meeting with the Board to discuss my concerns. They got lawyers to threaten me and an investigator to manipulate me. I’ll be recovering from this job for a lot longer than I worked in it.
Don’t be the manager who does this damage to your employees. They are people, they matter, and they do have power.
I hope my article helps you make your organisation a much happier and easier place to work and that your many budding social justice warriors are fighting for you, not against you.
Are you doing something amazing that I haven’t mentioned here? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Angela J Williams was not paid to write this article and recieved no benefits from any authors linked in this post.