HRExaminer v3.26 June 29, 2012
Table of Contents
by Heather Bussing
I’ve been talking to social media experts, lawyers, and HR practitioners for about three days now. There are a lot of questions and few clear answers. But when you distill the discussion to its essence, it comes down to one thing. People are afraid of social media because they are afraid of looking bad.
I have one question for you. Are you doing or saying things that make you look bad?
Social media might be able to make you look bad faster to more people. And social media can help you learn about what people are saying about you quickly and easily. And you can learn exactly what they said. (In the old days, you had to wait for someone to come tell you the edited version.)
But people have always said mean things to the people who mattered.
Social media and technology have just changed the way they say it. What they are saying hasn’t really changed at all.
So instead of killing the messenger or her iPhone, first, look at whether you are doing something that makes you look bad.
If this is the behavior you want from employees, make sure it true for the company too.
If You Have a Problem, It May Not Be Social Media
Yesterday, I was a part of a panel on the state of social recruiting. Along with Steve Boese, Jeremy Langhans and Bob Hohman, I got to explore some things with an audience of about 300 SHRM members. The panel itself was vigorous with real debate and differing points of view.
What was really nice was that each of the panel members were learning as the panel progressed. Disagreements ended with “I see your point.” or “I never looked at it that way.” Each of us came away from the discussion better informed with a broader view.
And it was great theater. The audience feedback was extremely positive. Most folks stayed for the whole thing in spite of the fact that it was the last event of the day. Sparks flew, people laughed, problems got explored, new ideas proliferated, and everyone had a good time.
The way you get a panel to work like this is through extensive preparation and teammates who are experts in their areas. We worked through the material in a loose way, had dinner together and generally warmed up the relationships so that we’d be at our best when we got on stage. It was a pleasure to work with pros who focused on the work while not taking themselves too seriously
Not everyone does it that way.
That’s a long intro to the thing that was hammered home for me during the panel. According to Glassdoor, “67% of employees say that they found their new job different than the expectations set in the interview.” This is the most visible fact in a series of notions we explored that suggest that recruiters and their companies are not particularly trustworthy.
If you haven’t noticed, the vast majority of employers don’t even bother to try to be the Best Place to Work. (And, you often have to squint and look in just the right way to believe that the “Best Places to Work” actually are.) Many employers have workforce problems that can’t stand the light of day.
Social media will make life hard for them.
Social technology introduces transparency into places that used to be very well hidden. What is found in those closets isn’t always appealing. To echo a column from earlier this week, many employers are afraid of looking bad. That’s why they want to control social media.
The real problem, though, is that they do look bad. Not because social media inflicts damage, but because it introduces sunlight. The culprit isn’t social media, it’s bad employment practices.
If you are working in a place with a rigid social media approach, ask “What are they trying to hide?”
Social Media Policies and User Adoption
Social Media Policies don’t work. The only thing a policy provides is a way to fire someone you want to fire anyway. (Policies are most useful to the weasel-y type of passive aggressive manager who cares more about CYA than doing the right thing.)
Policies don’t teach, educate, inform, enlighten, or improve communication. They do cover asses, enrich lawyers, fill desk drawers, protect furniture from drink rings, fill orientation packets, and substantiate the lawsuits they cause.
So, why do you create a policy in the first place?
Generally, there are things that scare and worry the company. The policy manual collects all of these worries in a single binder, like the room service menu or list of local churches in a hotel room. While documentation is interesting, policies have almost no impact on employee behavior.
Policies are a lot like those signs in the company break room that say "Do the dishes;" "Please clean up after yourself;" or "Your mother doesn’t work here." If you stop to think, every time you’ve ever seen one of those signs, it was always over a sink full of dirty dishes.
That’s how well policies work.
So, what do you do if policies are the wrong way to go, if the goal is broad employee adoption and not rear coverage?
We are in the very earliest stages of social technology. All that you can be sure of is that things will continue to change and popular usage of the tools will expand. Like the dawn of the printing press and the emergence of the internet, social technology shifts the locus of power in the culture and in our organizations. Social technology inherently changes the things that employers and managers can and want to do.
Looking at the wave of technology that is flowing in the front door, executives worry that employees will make the organization look bad. They’re concerned that corporate secrets will flow out the door through social sites, that customer lists will be tacked on to the bathroom walls that dot the internet. They are scared that small bumps in small disciplinary matters will explode into full fledged PR nightmares in under 10 minutes. They imagine defamation law suits that gut the corporate treasury. They dread a level of transparency that makes financial audits look tame.
Policies, which are the way we tried to manage the unmanageable in the 20th Century fail completely in the face of accelerating change in social media. Being able to assign blame after the horse is out of the gate worked when a single employee couldn’t take down the company single-handedly. Today, the trick is figuring out how to socialize the principles that make employees the guardians and champions of the company’s reputation.
Effective executives understand that managing risk is better accomplished with proactive strategies than defensive maneuvers. The best way to handle something that evolves rapidly and feels risky is to imagine and articulate what you want. Then you socialize it. Rule 1: Treat people like adults. Give them principles and the responsibility for execution.
by Heather Bussing
There are two main reasons to have employment policies: to educate and to manage risk.
The trouble is that policies don’t do either.
Policies are Bad Teachers
Most employment policies are issued in a large manual on your first day of work, along with a bunch of other forms to sign and return. The manual gets dumped a drawer while the IT person is waiting to hook you up to the network. You mean to pull it out and read it, but you don’t. That’s because if you really want to know how things work, you go ask someone in the break room.
The other reason policies don’t educate is because they are written by lawyers who can’t even tell you how to find the bathroom. Lawyers don’t know how things really work or even how and when the policies get applied. They are there to come up with language that works with statutes and cases and is designed to show to a jury if someone sues.
So policies get handed out at a time that no one pays attention to them, they are written by people who don’t know how the company really works, and they have very little to do with what happens. So much for education.
Policies Increase Risk More Than Decrease Risk.
Lawyers write policies to protect companies from liability. The main ones are EEO statements, At-will, Disciplinary, and Leave/Holiday policies. Depending on the company, you often see Nondisclosure/Confidentiality, Health/Safety/Workers Comp., and various flavors of Code of Conduct.
First, the EEO and Wage Hour policies are also required to be on those giant posters on the back of the break room door. These are pure statements of law that every company has, and people may or may not page attention to. (For example, law firms are one of the biggest violators of misclassification and overtime laws.)
Then, the disciplinary policies are almost always contradictory to at-will employment. If you have a progressive discipline policy that is required to be followed, you have just completely undermined your discretion to terminate at-will. If you have a progressive discipline policy that is optional, then it is essentially meaningless and just increases the risk that someone will sue you for not following your policy. Semi-discretionary policies are for weasels.
If you have read your NDA/Confidentiality policy lately, it is so broad that if you actually followed it, you would not be able to talk to anyone about work–ever and it undoubtedly violates Section 8 of the National Labor Relations Act.
Leave policies are never applied consistently because it is impossible. Life happens. You can have all the policies you want, but some people get more leave that the specified amount and some even get paid for it. That is exactly the way it should be. Treat people based on the the facts and circumstances–try to find a way to make it work for both the company and the employee. While laws and lawyers try to cover every exigency, Life is way more creative.
Definitely let people know how to file a workers’ compensation claim. But get real. Creating a policy about workplace safety doesn’t keep people safe. You have to show them how to do the work safely.
Which brings me to social media policies. Telling people not to say mean things or act like an idiot won’t stop them from saying mean things and acting like an idiot. Instead, you need to train them, explain that almost everything they do on social media is public, and show them how to effectively use the tools. (For the full rant, see Trash Your Social Media Policy.)
Unless it is required to be on a poster, or unless you can apply it in every instance without variance, you don’t want policies. Your at -will policy covers it. And if you don’t follow your policies to the letter, you will look like a liar in a courtroom.
“But You Can’t Treat People Differently, That’s Discrimination!”
No it isn’t. Companies treat different people differently all the time. Your paycheck is not the same as your colleagues’. You don’t take the exact same vacation and sick days as everyone else in the company. You don’t do the same work as other people in the company. The idea that you would treat everyone the same is ridiculous. And it’s not true.
Discrimination is an adverse employment decision based on a protected factor. It is a narrow band of protected/prohibited conduct. You can treat people differently all night and day and never discriminate.
Work Without Policies
If you don’t have policies, then two things happen. First, you actually have to teach people what to do and how to do it. But wait, you’re supposed to do that anyway.
Second, you have to take responsibility for your decisions. Somebody has to say, “I looked at the situation and made the best call for the employee and the company based on the circumstances.” It may be the line manager, or the VP of HR or the CEO. Maybe everyone involved. But that is the right thing to do.
Fire people who don’t work out for the reasons it’s not working out. Reward people who are doing a great job.
If you give someone the responsibility to do something, give them the authority to actually get it done. Encourage communication. Concede, better yet, embrace the fact that there are many ways to do it right. Allow for the fact that people screw up. And sometimes those screw ups are called innovation.
Which of your policies do that?