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Katrina Kemp
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November 26, 2021

The Darkside of Group Chats and Social Media

Organisational leaders are being driven to focus on, and enhance communications with their team members like never before. Whilst that’s easily requested, it can be fraught with challenges. In this article we share a few lessons, hard-learnt, by others.

 

Internal communications – the rise of group chats

In a recent NZ Employment Relations Authority (ERA) case, an employee was awarded $18,000 in hurt and humiliation compensation after successfully presenting a case of Constructive Dismissal, meaning she felt she had no choice but to resign.

 

The win came after it was found the complainant’s manager publicly criticised her in a team/business group chat, as well as the complainant noticing replies to a deleted message, in which it turns out that the manager had made disparaging jokes about the Complainant to colleagues.

 

In another very public case, workers shared client stories on a group chat, ridiculing their clients. Not only, was this was a breach of the Privacy Act, and of company protocols regarding the confidentiality of client information, it was also a gross misuse of a group chat.

 

This is not just a NZ issue. In a Wales based case, a teenage waitress at a high-end hotel, was awarded a significant sum after she complained about inappropriate sexual comments towards her by a chef. The complaint was not investigated. She was then placed on furlough from April 2020 due to the pandemic but was told there were no hours for her when the hotel reopened in August, even though other waitresses returned to work. She was also removed from the employee WhatsApp group which was used for allocating shifts. In this instance it was the exclusion from a group chat that was of concern, and played a role in her unfair treatment.

 

In each pf these scenarios, a manager was a member of the group chat. Leaders need to set the standard when it comes to group chat, and what it should be used for. What leaders see (or should reasonably see) and do nothing to address, can be considered accepting and condoning the behaviour and come at a cost to them later.

 

Ambiguity over appropriateness of use is less likely to be present when a more work focused tool is used e.g., Yammer, Microsoft Teams, LinkedIn etc., and more likely when the tool could be used for both personal and work-related sharing e.g. SnapChat, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, WeChat etc.

 

Regardless of the medium used, ensuring employees know what sites they can and should use, for different kinds of communication (e.g. client updates vs. social club updates), what the expected standards are for each and consequences of misuse. Organisations should set clear expectations with leaders that they are responsible for maintaining, set standards and equip them to be able to provide timely feedback if those standards slip, and take a firm stand with a line is crossed.

 

External communications – employee participation in social media

In the ERA case I referenced early in this article, the owner of the business had a genuine desire to actively gain the interest of their customers, during difficult COVID restrictions. The owner requested employees to post daily Social Media videos, whilst working from home. The issue was that the creation of videos was not any part of the team member’s job description nor related to the core purpose of their role. The team member was a soap-maker, and asked to post exercise videos. They felt extremely uncomfortable with the request.

 

In this case, the employee was given a new employment agreement with an addition of the requirement for social media involvement, and which also had a change from 20 hours per week to a casual contract and told to either accept it or resign.

 

Whilst a business owner might have creative ideas about how to engage customers using social media, the execution of ideas must be within the scope of an employee’s role, or with their willing consent.

 

Jared Wooff, Marketing Manager at K3, says “with corporate social media, lines can become blurred. Often employees are actively endorsing their company or work through social media on their own terms, however if employers are encouraging this on more than a social basis, it’s a good idea to formalise this through guidelines which identify what sort of involvement they’re after, which sites, styles, and tones are intended and why they’re helpful. This may mean also being clear on what is not appropriate. Well intended errors, are still errors, and once seen can leave a lasting negative impression.”

 

Group chats and social media – weighing the benefits

These tools are here to stay, and they can add value to the internal and external communications of an organisation, but they can also do lasting damage. Step back and ask:

  • What do I want to communicate?
  • How do I want people to experience that?
  • What platform will best help me to achieve that?
  • If the communication was successful, what would that look like? How can I describe that for others?
  • Using that platform, what is the worst that could happen, and how could I set principles and guidelines to prevent that?
  • What can I do to empower my leaders to keep us to the principles and guidelines?

Once you have made your selections, socialising your ideas and expectations with your team is important, especially with those in leadership roles who will take an active role in managing the parameters of use.

 

This is even more important as we navigate working in a COVID-19 environment. Working from home arrangements have seen workplaces become increasingly informal with the shift from face-to-face communication to online connections to our teams. We are sharing more personal thoughts with each other through these mediums, from views on vaccination or the governments pandemic response, to de-escalating our work frustrations with team members or customers/clients in written form (emails, social media) instead of a quiet chat with a colleague.

 

It’s a timely reminder that online communications and social media chats or posts, can be recorded, copy and pasted or shared. A digital record may never be completely removed and could come back to bite your business internally or externally.

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