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The more things change, the more things stay the same. As compliance matures as an industry, we sometimes forget the foundational best practices that our programs are built upon. Every so often, we revisit some of our most educational posts from the past. We think you’ll find they are just as relevant today.

Originally published February 2018

Social media does not only provide channels for employees to talk, it also by its very nature encourages and cultivates discussions that may not have happened otherwise. Pair this with a brewing global state of distrust, and we start to see a culture of speaking out, as opposed to a culture of speaking up.

Today, social media is much more than just an alternative channel to whistleblower hotlines; it’s a community ready to share in success, commiserate in failure and even amplify when blaming.

Today, social media is much more than just an alternative channel to whistleblower hotlines; it’s a community ready to share in success, commiserate in failure and even amplify when blaming. For instance, Glassdoor allows employees and former employees to review companies anonymously with the intent of helping potential hires make informed decisions about their next career move. There is a personal social responsibility built into the site that encourages people to say something if they see something, even if they weren’t planning to in the first place.

Similarly, “Blind” is another app we were introduced to recently, designed specifically to cultivate employee discussion. It builds on the Glassdoor idea of supporting informed career decisions and adds real-time chat features for employees to talk anonymously with one another about their jobs. This is a forum to talk about salary, benefits and work-life balance, but is also, as Mashable calls it, “The hot app where all the best Silicon Valley gossip is read right now.”

These are no doubt great tools to inform employees and hiring candidates; however, they can prove hazardous for companies who have an ethics failure, or even just the perception of one.

In May of 2017, a company was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for retaliation. The alleged retaliation occurred when a disgruntled employee posted an unfavorable comment on Glassdoor and was subsequently fired. The company claims the series of events were unrelated. The EEOC disagreed. But what is more important here is the content of the comment. The employee said that the organization’s managers “do not know what the word ‘discrimination’ means, nor do they think it matters.’”

Here’s the thing: whether or not the reporter’s claim is substantiated, this story garnered a lot of media attention, social media traction, and, well, we’re still talking about it here. This is going to influence the way customers, potential customers, employees, and hiring candidates view the company whenever the story comes up in a simple Google search unrelated to the incident.

Maybe for the first time, what we’re seeing is that employees are not reporting outside their organizations just because they fear retaliation, they may now be reporting externally because they receive more immediate affirmation. This is a unique challenge compliance programs will have to navigate.

In today’s typical incident management program, members of the compliance team are the ones diligently processing each report, running it through the proper channels, resolving the case and informing whistleblowers that their reports were heard and taken seriously. But on social media, all that effort is being crowdsourced in the court of public opinion by friends, family and strangers who provide immediate feedback and rally around a cause.

Continue Reading: Turning Passive Detection into Active Incident Management

The State of Trust

This conversation machine – social media – has now been warmed up and is running at full force in a time of heightened cynicism and distrust. This has affected the nature of conversations online. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey on credibility across industries, organizations, media, regions and individual roles, trust in business is at an all-time low. This has created a landscape in which companies and their leaders are now operating in a world of

default skepticism.

This shift in trust is unhitching credibility from the wagon of business leaders and brand managers, and hitching it instead to “a person like you.” This realignment of trust further strengthens social media’s position as a strong choice for employee reports.

Take for example who we see as trustworthy in 2017 according to the Trust Barometer.

  • 37 percent said CEOs were credible
  • 48 percent said employees were credible
  • 60 percent said “a person like you” was credible
  • 60 percent said experts were credible

social media is not only a very desirable place for employees to share their workplace reports, but it is also where external audiences will get their most believable portrayals of a company

This shows us that social media is not only a very desirable place for employees to share their workplace reports, but it is also where external audiences will get their most believable portrayals of a company. That’s to say, it’s not the communication-department-approved press release that builds your brand reputation, it’s the employee generated tweet, Facebook post, and Glassdoor comment that reflects the new face of your company.

We find ourselves in a real chicken-and-egg situation – which came first, the opportunity to air out an employer’s dirty laundry, or the desire to do so. In either case, there is definitely a budding culture of speaking out, which directly competes with the internal cultures we are trying to cultivate around speaking up.

Key Steps for Organizations to Take

Focus on the Issue not the Social Channels

There’s not a technical fix to this problem. That’s because this is not a technical problem. This has eloquently been stated by Bob Corlett, President and Founder of Staffing Advisors and HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member: “Bad online reviews are not an online problem. They are a real life problem. If you own a restaurant, the solution to your bad restaurant reviews is not found online – you solve it in the kitchen.”

Similarly, focus on the content of the comment, not where the comment was made. If an employee says that your company doesn’t know what discrimination means, don’t delete your Glassdoor account, investigate to see if there is any truth to the statement.

Showcase Your Core Values

This is often an issue of living up to corporate core values, and convincing your employees and the general public of those values. When a company perceived as “good” is accused of something wrong, the social community may cut them some slack assuming the issue will be resolved and never happen again. When a company perceived as “bad,“ or even neutral, is accused of something wrong, the social community believes it is its prerogative to administer justice. This is through the form of reputational damage. Companies can cushion their business with goodwill. This helps protect companies when a compliance or PR crisis occurs.

Create & Enforce a Strong Anti-Retaliation Policy

Zero tolerance for retaliation needs to be policy, but it also has to be more powerful than just a policy. Employees need to know unequivocally that if they report internally, they will in no way be retaliated against. This definitely includes retaliation by the company, but also more subtle forms of retaliation from coworkers or job duty modifications.

Listen-Up Culture

Lastly – and this is the big one – companies need to create “listen-up” cultures. This is similar to a speak-up culture; however,  it puts the onus of internal reporting on organizational leadership rather than employees. It’s the job of the executive team and management to support employees along the path of raising their voices for the betterment of the company. This ensures employees know that their report will be heard, taken seriously, and things will change if necessary.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, social media provides immediate crowdsourced affirmation when people speak out. Organizations and their compliance programs need to find ways to implement similar affirmation points along the incident management process. It can’t be the exact nature of public kudos that social media offers, but individual reporters need to feel like they are contributing to the organization’s mission and are appreciated for it.

The powerful draw of social media is raising the stakes for companies to build robust incident management programs embedded deep within healthy listen-up cultures. This is what will provide the channels on which employees want to report, as well as the trust they need to do so.

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