How can human resource professionals minimize the likelihood of an electronic communication disaster affecting their companies? Seldom does a week pass that a hacked, leaked or subpoenaed e-mail is not in the news documenting a company's embarrassing or illegal activities. In many cases, the evidence used in lawsuits has shifted from a company's actions to the words written by its own employees.
My book UnSend: Email, Text, and Social Media Disasters … and How to Avoid Them, (CreateSpace, 2016) draws on the techniques HR can use to avoid such calamities. The book deconstructs case studies to detail the situation, outline actions taken, and examine the consequences for the writers and the companies. The stories—which involve people at all corporate levels, from CEOs to rank-and-file employees—reveal deadlines, financial pressures, business expectations and management directives resulting from problematic messages. However, there is much HR can do to raise employees' awareness of the potential pitfalls of electronic communications.
Consider this: In 1999, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought 438 suits against companies for harassment, discrimination, retaliation and other violations. HR professionals studied the circumstances that triggered the lawsuits and trained their employees to act in compliance with EEOC statutes. Using real-world examples, this training and education helped change employees' costly behavior, leading to a threefold reduction in EEOC lawsuits by 2015.
Electronic media have amplified the power of words. The devastation this form of communication can cause gives HR professionals plenty of cautionary tales they can use to protect employees' careers and safeguard their company's reputation.
As my book states, "A single employee, with one message, can succinctly capture the essence of a corporation the same way an iconic photograph captures a moment. Unfortunately, it is usually the negative messages that are published or used in lawsuits."
Kent Alan Robinson is the author of UnSend: Email, Text, and Social Media Disasters … and How to Avoid Them (CreateSpace, 2016). He lives in St. Louis.