More than ever, disgruntled employees have been taking to TikTok, Twitter, and other social media sites to share videos and posts of their bad work experiences.
Recently, massive organizations like Better.com, Starbucks, and Amazon have had viral incidents recorded or posted by upset employees who are feeling unheard and undervalued in their workplace.
These stories do more than just go viral; they cause reputation damage which can lead to lost business, employee churn, and lawsuits.
While some people might be doing this in bad faith, many employees report it’s because they find tried traditional HR channels less than satisfactory. They feel un-heard and undervalued, and they turn to the internet to tell their stories and receive fast responses.
According to employment lawyer Janette Levey, the problem is a trust dynamic: “If an employer sets things up so that employees don’t feel safe bringing problems to them, they will turn to social media because they don’t feel there are any other options.”
Focus on the relationship
You can’t build a brand or accomplish your mission statement without your employees. To avoid the repercussions of viral incidents and strengthen your brand, you need to do more than have rock solid social media policies. You must repair your employer/employee relationship and work culture. Or better yet, create a healthy, ethical culture from the start.
According to Levey, a culture of ethics:
- “Keeps all employees (including senior management) accountable for their actions
- Creates healthy relationships between employees, and
- Helps employees feel valued”
When employees feel secure in their jobs and don’t fear harassment or discrimination, they probably won’t victimize co-workers or rage on social media either. A positive, ethical work environment lowers stress, making employees less likely to lash out or make a poor decision.
Write a clear-cut policy
If you feel your workplace is healthy and ethical, it’s time to evaluate tactics. A weak, vague social media policy puts you at risk of more (and worse) employee violations. Make sure yours is thorough from the start and encourage employees to ask questions if they’re unsure.
No two social media policies should be identical. Base yours on your company’s specific needs and values, but be sure to include:
- a list of social media platforms the policy applies to
- consequences of policy violations
- what to post (and not post)
- laws your company is subject to, and
- who to contact with questions.
With so many different rules and regulations to follow, having one policy for using social media in the workplace might not work. Instead, craft one policy for employees who are approved to post on the company’s behalf and another for all employees’ personal use.
In your social media staff’s policy, emphasize the importance of adhering to your company’s values, public image and mandate. Include a style guide to keep voice and tone consistent across posts. Finally, list specific formats, topics and types of content they should and shouldn’t include in company posts.
Most importantly, update your policies often. Social media changes fast. If you don’t keep up, employees could find loopholes that endanger your company’s reputation.
Invest in training
Even if you have the most sound social media policy ever written, don’t expect employees to follow it without training them on it, too.
“Train your employees to avoid disclosure [of confidential information], discrimination, and defamation,” stresses Kortney Nordrum, regulatory counsel & chief compliance officer for Deluxe Corporation. Posting these three things will almost always spell trouble for the employee and your company.
“Make sure your employees know that they are going to be responsible for the consequences of their actions,” Nordrum adds.
Social media should include guidance on what is and isn’t acceptable to post, as well as what could happen if employees don’t follow the rules (both of the company and of regulatory bodies).
Social media has made it harder to separate our work and personal lives, especially when we’re connected to coworkers on platforms. Companies should give their employees privacy online, but you need to decide where to draw the line.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) says employers can’t punish employees for posting about their working conditions on social media, but they can be fired for some content. For instance, if an employee posts hate speech or harassment against a protected class (e.g. gender, race), they can face repercussions.
To make this decision easier, prohibit behavior on social media that you wouldn’t accept in the workplace, such as harassment, discrimination, bullying, hate speech, and obscene language. Treat these violations the same way you’d address a similar incident at the office, with consistent consequences for equivalent incidents.
It’s the employers’ turn to listen
You can’t monitor every employee on social all the time. Nor can you experience working for your company the way each employee does. Employees are your greatest resource to reveal risk areas. They can also identify ways to create a more effective social media plan and better culture.
So, periodically take a deep breath and ask your employees the hard questions via a cultural assessment survey. This will help you identify areas of risk and workplace trends that need addressing – before they get to the public.
To get the most value from your data, analyze it to see not only what employees’ concerns are, but also who raised them.
For instance, do men feel safe confronting their coworkers but women don’t? Do employees of color feel less safe being themselves than white employees? Use this information to update your policies and training to create a safer, more equitable environment for all employees.
From employee to ambassador
You want people to talk about your company on social media for the right reasons. But a big presence comes with risks – from reputation damage to lawsuits. Managing social media use in the workplace (and on behalf of your organization) requires a delicate touch. Balancing the needs of the organization with the rights—and values—of employees is essential.