A comment placed on Glassdoor.com has resulted in an employee losing their job and a company being sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The current discussion in the press is focused on the idea that contemporary, innovative communication channels are making it harder for organizations to manage dissatisfied employees. However, I think the focus is being misplaced. Focus shouldn’t be on the channel; it needs to be on the issue.
Focus shouldn’t be on the channel; it needs to be on the issue.
Here’s the story. An employee posted a comment on Glassdoor stating that at their company, “Most management do not know what the word ‘discrimination’ means, nor do they seem to think it matters.” After posting this comment, the employee was fired. A common case of retaliation? That’s the question that triggered the EEOC to get involved and resulted in a suit filed against the company in May 2017.
My reputation management interest was piqued. Whether the reporting employee’s claim is substantiated or not, this company is now in the news because it is being sued by the EEOC for retaliation and “doesn’t know what the word ‘discrimination’ means.” People aren’t going to forget that. This is going to influence the way the public views the organization. It will also affect the way employees and future employment candidates view the organization.
It’s not the channel. It’s not the people. It’s engagement.
Social technologies, including Glassdoor but also the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, give us real-time crowdsourced feedback on what and how we are doing. They can tell us that our latest marketing campaign spoke directly to our audience in a way that made people smile, laugh or feel something. They can also tell us our tone was off and we annoyed the majority of those who saw the campaign. For better or worse, the key is to use this feedback to improve our work.
When we focus singularly on the channel on which a negative comment was made, we shirk responsibility for making changes in response to the real issue. If instead we look at the content of those comments, we can gain insight into gaps that may exist within our programs. Or, if our programs are solid, it can highlight how the culture surrounding those programs is not resonating with every individual who makes up our workforce.
Consider Gallup’s State of the American Workplace study, which takes a deep dive into the American workforce. It shows that a dissatisfied, unengaged employee is not something unique to this story.
According to the study, in 2016, 51% of the workforce were not engaged, and 16% were actively disengaged. This means only “33% of employees were engaged – involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”
Engaged employees may still become dissatisfied; however, commitment to their organization compels them to report internally first. This is the sign of an effective whistleblower program.
Complaints on public channels are most likely not coming from this engaged 33%. Engaged employees may still become dissatisfied; however, commitment to their organization compels them to report internally first. This is the sign of an effective whistleblower program. Internal reports and their resolutions provide a necessary set of checks and balances that helps eliminate similar incidents from happening again for the benefit of both employees and organizations.
Whistleblower programs only work, however, in organizations that harness a convincing speak-up culture. When that culture does not exist, employees will resort to external channels. Complaints made outside the organization are made because an employee is convinced that their complaint will not get the consideration it deserves within the company. Or, that employee doesn’t value the organization they work for enough to give it a chance to do better.
The first step is to create, improve or enforce a strong anti-retaliation policy. Employees need to know that if they report internally, they will not be retaliated against. Full stop. Next, policy without action is ineffective. An organization needs to prove that it welcomes reports, takes them seriously and works to resolve them efficiently. “Proving” this requires organizations to practice an open-door policy that includes multiple reporting channels, and ensures employees are aware of those channels. Implementing an awareness program that educates employees about their available reporting channels is almost as important as the channels themselves, and makes external reporting less tempting.
Remember, when an employee posts an unfavorable comment on a public social channel, it’s not the channel with which we need to concern ourselves. The content of the comment and the fact that an employee felt the need to go outside the organization to post is what’s important. Recognize the mirrors your program has available and take a good look.