Why Cancel Culture Misses the Point

As the digital era gives way to internet mob psychology, companies endure exponentially more pressure when managing a public relations crisis. As a result, an employee’s risk of being fired for problematic social media content has increased. In a world where anyone from high-profile celebrities to politicians’ staffers to doctors and nurses could get “cancelled” for something as simple as a problematic tweet, it’s a fair question to ask: is giving in to mob psychology an effective long-term strategy? If “canceling” an employee for publicly embarrassing a company saves face in the short term, what kind of message does that send to employees?

Cancel culture might seem like the easy way out, but in taking that path, companies could be robbing themselves of valuable opportunities for holistic growth. Could “teachable moments” be the key to employee retention?

Cancel culture does save reputation…

From a crisis management perspective, it is useful to terminate a disgraced employee undergoing public scrutiny in order to maintain a more secure public reputation. As social media platforms have increasingly come to function as a virtual town square (or a digital mob, depending), it’s easy to “make an example” of an employee, especially when there are hundreds of tweets floating around calling for support. While that may seem evil to the individual involved, it’s an important move for a company to have. After all, no organization or group entity wants to be judged for its once-in-a-career worst. Plucking out the one bad apple is not only saving a brand image and avoiding upper management’s ire–it’s helping protect the whole workplace from taking a hit in terms of both morale and revenue/financial security. For every nurse that is fired for breaching HIPAA laws, there are hundreds of upstanding nurses committed to patient health and privacy.

But it removes opportunity

When a company caves into pressure to fire an individual for their behavior–be that external pressure from the public or internal pressure from management–it misses the opportunity for a “teachable moment.” While some behavior does merit employee termination, companies might consider how they could benefit from drawing employees in and helping them grow into more integrous professionals.

For example, a minor infraction might involve an employee posting something objectionable on social media. A company might use their social media policy to delineate various levels of discipline based on the severity of a post. Perhaps slandering the company automatically qualifies as grounds for termination. However, perhaps other types of problematic content don’t. In this instance, an HR professional could take this opportunity to call the employee in–instead of pushing them out–and gently realign them with company values. To deal with the content, a simple request could be made to delete or make the post private. The practicality of this means that the employee isn’t pushed out, HR doesn’t worry about turnover, and the perceived threat to the workplace has been dealt with in a humane and understanding manner.

Benefits of open conversations 

A company that is willing to work with employees to improve their professional behavior demonstrates a threshold of holistic care for the individual. Having open conversations about difficult, behavior-related subjects opens the door to deeper, more growth-oriented professional relationships and a holistic maintenance to the company that sees employees as humans first.  According to a recent report from the Work Institute, Career Development and Manager Behavior are the two of the top three reasons employees leave. This means that an emphasis on professional growth–and more importantly the way that growth is communicated via management–could be the key to mitigating problematic workplace behavior. A more prolific care for employees as individuals may open the door to a long term strategy of boosting employee retention. Employees are more likely to stick around if they feel like they are treated as human beings, which means that positive reinforcement is just as important as “teachable moments”.

A culture of transparency requires a foundation of well-thought-out policies for workplace behavior. These policies range from core company values to codes of conduct to social media policies. A great way to establish clear behavioral expectations is to integrate both a code of conduct and a social media policy into a broader, open-door policy. Social Intel is proud to provide adjudication training services to its clients to help companies navigate through these types of hard questions. To learn more about how social media screening can help support a holistic hiring strategy, click here.

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