Social Networking – Be Careful out There
Last month, a waitress was fired because she complained about a customer on her Facebook account. Apparently, a couple went to Brixx Pizza in Charlotte, North Carolina for lunch. The couple stayed in the restaurant for three hours requiring the waitress to wait on them for that extended period of time which was past her normal ending time. The couple only gave her a $5.00 tip. The waitress, Ashley Johnson, did what every 22 year old does. She went home and made a comment about the cheap tipper on her Facebook page, "Thanks for eating at Brixx, you cheap piece of **** camper." A couple of days later, her boss called her into the office, showed her the Facebook comment and fired her for criticizing a customer and putting the restaurant in a negative light on social networking. She apologized immediately, but it was too late as the decision to terminate her employment was already made and there was no recourse for her.
Was firing Ashley Johnson for her comment on Facebook too severe? I think so. Think about it, everyone who has ever worked in a restaurant complains about customers. In many ways it is a healthy vent. In the past all of the wait staff sat at a table at the end of a shift to complain about the day's customers. It was a healthy vent. In the pre-social media days, such talk was acceptable. Why is it different in the internet age? Is it because the complaints are now public records?
About a year or so ago, a guy named Dan Leone, a former Philadelphia Eagles employee was upset that Brian Dawkins, one of the best and most popular players in the history of the team (and a native of Jacksonville), signed with the Denver Broncos. Mr Leone posted his feelings on Facebook, "Dan is [expletive] devastated about Dawkins signing with Denver...Dam Eagles R Retarted!!" Days later, he was fired for this posting.
IMHO (which means "In My Humble Opinion" for those not familiar with social media lingo) neither of these people should have been terminated for these offenses as the sole reason.
If Dan Leone was fired for his inability to spell, this would be more understandable. Ask yourself, how many times you have called management something far worse than "retarted." Besides, as an Eagles fan I agree with Mr. Leone. What am I going to do with my Brian Dawkins Eagles number 20 jersey now?
As an employee, how often have you heard that management is stupid or idiots or worse? How many times have you complained about your boss or customers? If people are fired each time they disagree with their boss or said an unkind word about patrons of your business, there would be no employees left.
Less than 5 years ago it was the water cooler, the bar after work or the designated smoking area. By the way, if you want to really find out what employees are thinking about their workplace, visit the smoking area every now and then. Just try to stay out if the way and listen. In the past couple of years, social media has become the water cooler of the workplace with employees complaining on Facebook, Twitter, jobvent.com, myspace, blogs, via text message and many other means. Social networking is a new phenomenon and it stands to reason that it is going to get bigger and businesses need to change.
Think about it, people have been complaining about their jobs for centuries, but now that it is in a public access setting, people are getting fired for saying they don't like their boss.
Employer Rights vs. Reality
Employment attorneys are stating that employers are well within their rights to terminate an employee for violating the rules or questioning management about their decisions. They warn that nothing on the internet is private and warn people to be careful of what they say or what they post on Facebook pages.
On the other hand, managers ought to come to grips with the fact that employees question decisions constantly. Any manager who is naïve enough to think that every one of their employees thinks they are great and wonderful are living in a fantasy world and should get over themselves. There will be disagreements and managers will be questioned by their subordinates – all the time. The complaints will continue as long as there are people in the world.
We Still Have to Draw the Line
Social media policies must be developed and communicated to employees. This should include information that does not allow employees to harass, belittle or disparage specific employees, customers, vendors by name, position or the name of the name of the client, customer or vendor.
Obviously, trade secret information should never be divulged on the internet and employees of publicly traded companies should never give out insider information. Sarbanes Oxley requires any company related communications through social media networks be retained as business files, stating that social media messages must be supervised, reviewed and retained.
Additionally, organizations must have policies that do not allow employees to access social media sites on company owned computers, cell phones or any other electronic device that has yet to be invented. Employers must take away any reasonable expectancy of privacy for anything stored on company owned equipment. It is also a bad practice to allow employees to use their personal electronic devices for their work. This includes cell phones, laptop computers, hand held computers, data storage devices, etc.
Employees must also understand that they are not to use their personal cell phones at work. They must turn OFF their personal cell phones while they working or on company time.
Is there a middle ground?
Yes, there has to be a middle ground. We are entering a brave new world with the internet and as managers we must adapt not only to the content of what is posted, but also with the age of the people we are managing. The internet is the place where people will air their gripes and complaints. This can be viewed as a good thing. If there is trouble brewing in the workplace, shouldn't management know about it so that preventive action can be taken? The old way of telling secrets verbally left management unaware of issues employees were having with their workplace.
Managers must adapt by being more open to ideas and constructive criticism. Open the door to your open door policy and let employees in. When people use the internet to air their gripes, it is an indication the employees are not comfortable approaching their supervisors.
So let's not go so far as to chastise employees when they air a complaint on their Facebook page. Instead, bring the employee into your office and discuss things and make their work experience better. Then ask the employee to post something on their page telling the world how well the situation was handled.
Forcing employees to not post negative information causes the negativity to go underground in the form of a grapevine. If management is taking the time to look at internet sites to see what employees are saying about the company, it is a sign that there is no trust. When the trust between employee and employer is compromised, it creates an us against them working environment. It's a lose – lose situation.
Ask yourself this, did Brixx Pizza get the type of publicity it wanted out of this? Do you think the restaurant is now looked upon in a positive way? Do you think there are a number of people in Charlotte who will not go to Brixx Pizza because of how Ashley Johnson was treated? Do you think firing an employee for putting the restaurant in a negative light may have backfired on them? Only time will tell.
How will your company respond to the new internet age?