Can staff criticise the boss?

A blog post on Friday from eConsultancy ‘s Graham Charlton, One in five employees uses social media to criticise the boss, caught my attention.

It quoted research by MyJobGroup who surveyed 1,000 UK employees, revealing that one in five would “take a pop at their boss”. It seems that most employees (70%) were unaware of whether their organisation had any policies or guidelines governing the use of social media (16% said their companies had laid down guidelines in this area).

The theme appeared to be that HR departments should be clearer about their policies on employees’ use of social media (something I’ve long favoured – post). An employment law specialist warned employees to be careful (“Abuse of social media can be grounds for discipline, up to and including termination of contract, depending on the level of abuse, and the policies in place at the company”). The blog post also references the DSGi Facebook fiasco (post) where staff insulted customers.

However, the focus on the apparent dangers of “criticising the boss” rankled with me a bit. I found myself wondering about employees who might be voicing legitimate concerns or revealing uncomfortable truths, not just about the management, but about the organisation’s activities, products or services. What about constructive criticisms: perhaps blogs or tweets that draw attention to areas for potential improvement? Creating open channels for communication and building internal communities of committed employees can be an effective way for organisations to identify issues, overcome bottle-necks, develop best practices, earn loyalty, etc.

Social media allows greater transparency than almost ever before into an organisation’s activities. For me, this underlines two needs:

  1. to properly audit the organisation, its activities and its online profile so that any possible “skeletons in the closet” can be addressed before social media tools and techniques are added to the official communications mix (as distinct from existing unofficial channels).
  2. to have appropriate guidelines in place to encourage responsible production of user-generated content by employees.

However, as I’ve said before, it’s not just an online issue. It extends into wider issues of recruitment and retention. For instance, at today’s Dell B2B social media huddle (which I followed online), I heard Benjamin Ellis stress that social media now extends beyond online tools and techniques. To paraphrase him (I hope correctly), he argued that because employees will talk about your business whether you like it or not, “Who you hire” is now part of your social media strategy.

2 comments

  1. Hi Paul,

    I didn’t mean to sound like too much of a fascist!

    I take your point about employees being allowed to raise legitimate points, and this is something that social media can be useful for.

    I suppose it depends on whether employees are raising legitimate grievances or simply slagging off the boss or their colleagues.

    I would hope that reasonable employers would welcome any constructive comments on social media, though employees should still exercise caution as some bosses are more reasonable than others.

    I think clear policies on social media use at work are the answer, this way everyone knows where they stand.

  2. Thanks, Graham, good to hear.

    Watching/listening to the Dell B2B Huddle today, I also heard Benjamin Ellis talk about skeletons coming out and this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – to which Arun Sudhaman responded via Twitter: “I can think of a few companies that would disagree!”

    Sadly, I think Arun is right. A good many businesses in the architecture, engineering and construction sector (where I mainly work) have a highly conservative ‘command and control’ culture, and marketing approaches that still talk about ‘controlling the message’. In such organisations, opening up communication channels would be seen as risky, and some are responding by blocking access and deepening their non-engagement – often to their own detriment.

    Let’s face it: the talent of tomorrow will not want to work for organisations with bosses that don’t want to listen. They are likely to gravitate towards businesses that are more open and receptive to their employees’ concerns and ideas; such businesses will thrive, while the ‘head in the sand’ dinosaurs will, I hope, eventually become extinct.

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