How to Communicate with Employees

And how social media affects this.

I’m certainly not the best at communication. I often send messages and emails in my head for days before I actually type and send them; a great example of overthinking inhibiting good communication.

That said, I’ve worked in various industries and learned both good and bad communication. Viddler was the company where I remember learning the most about communication. For the first half of my seven-year career with them, I worked remotely. This offered some freedoms (lunch and a 20-minute nap at 3pm? Sure!), but also meant I became a workaholic and stayed up until three, four, or seven o’clock in the morning. My communication with headquarters would be lacking at times. Slack didn’t exist back then, so we used Skype and the chat often filled up with jokes and non-work-related topics.

When I moved to the headquarters, it was nice to be able to walk over to anyone’s desk and ask them a question or what was going on with a particular client. Communication was easier in this environment, but it wasn’t perfect. Often the tools/software would hinder us and we’d forget to follow-up with some clients or each other.

At Amazon, digital communication was almost non-existent. Due to the nature of the workplace (a huge warehouse that churns through employees relatively quickly), most communication is done at the beginning of each shift and after each lunch break. They cover numbers, goals, and safety (stretches and our current injury count, if any). It’s great, but makes it hard to communicate after-hours. (Did I mention I’m a workaholic? Even jobs I’m not passionate about (e.g., working a mindless job in a warehouse) tend to get a lot of my attention.)

That’s some of my experience with communication in business. Now onto social media and how it affects the workplace.

One of the most public firings of an employee due to personal social media comments that has stuck in my mind was Justine Sacco in 2014. She posted some off-handed tweets (intended to be humourous) moments before boarding an international flight. The tweets instantly offended people, but she had no opportunity to defend herself until her flight landed. At that point, it was too late: she was fired from her job at IAC received death threats from faceless persons on Twitter. I hadn’t heard of Justine until that event happened. My opinion of her then and now is no different to before I knew of her existence: indifferent. I don’t know her and a few off-hand tweets aren’t going to help me understand her beliefs and actions in the world. That day, she was fired from her job as the Senior Director of Corporate Communications (i.e., PR) at IAC. Today, 4 years later, she just got a new job running Corporate Communications at Match Group — a subsidiary of IAC.

“Can you think of anything less judicial than this?”

Jon Ronson’s Ted Talk on how one tweet can ruin your life

This anecdote displays how even a “senior director” at a large organisation isn’t safe when they make a silly mistake/joke. I don’t know what her relationship with the company was like, but you’d think she would have a good rapport with employees and management if she’s in that role. The problem is the news media and its viewership. An audience of people can have such a huge influence on news stories.

The two-week 2014 CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich (co-founder and previously CTO of Mozilla), stepped down (as CEO and resigned from Mozilla) after pressure to resign because of his opposition on gay marriage. Not because of his performance; not because of his leadership techniques; not because of the way he managed finances. No. Because his personal beliefs don’t match those of the developers, fans, and users of Mozilla. I use Firefox and I believe in Mozilla’s mission, but I didn’t hear about this story until it was long past the headlines. (I don’t really follow the news though.)

Last anecdote: Stepping out of 2014… Just a few weeks ago, Kevin Hart (father, actor, comedian) was offered the job as host of the upcoming Academy Awards. Within days, people (activists, trolls, and journalists alike) had dug up old tweets and posts written by Kevin. (Note: Kevin has been in the media countless times since these posts because he’s made several movies and stand-up comedy shows. Nobody dug up his posts for any of those stories and suggested he shouldn’t be making movies…) These posts offended people (which is often part of what any comedian does: offends groups of people for laughs) and the same people who appointed him to host pressured him to apologise or step down. He explained that he has changed since he wrote those things and he feels no need to apologise since that’s not the person he is anymore. Susan Fowler (mother, writer, and software engineer) wrote about this in the New York Times. She explained that social media history and holding people accountable for their old views is creating a disastrous precedent. I agree.

I’ve shared my opinions in writing and on video many times. And many of those opinions I no longer hold to now that I’m Christian. This is a silly example, but it shows you don’t have to be talking about social issues to experience the same thing: I spent many years building a reputation around enjoying cake, lollies, and desserts in general. Unexpectedly getting a job at a sweet shop in 2005 only enforced this. In 2009, I spent a year creating a show called “Sweet Adventures“. I didn’t consciously build this “brand” for myself; it just happened. Now, I’m 32 and barely eat processed sugar. I still love desserts, but anything with processed sugar will irritate my teeth and isn’t enjoyable. Most people who have known me for 10+ years don’t know this, so they still have me in their mind as a sugar fiend. If I were to get a job (I need a full-time one, by the way) at a healthfood company and people started finding all my old posts about sugar and desserts, then should I apologise? No.

Lydia recently began working at a place that has inspired her for years. She was enjoying it very much, and looked forward to working up to full-time role there. A few weeks in, she noticed that many of the seasoned coworkers there learned from the same coaches (online sources) she did. In fact, she expected to be learning heaps in the first few months, but realised she’s unexpectedly on par with others’ skill level and knowledge. She didn’t consider this a bad thing nor was she overly confident in herself; it was just an observation she made. She posted the observation on her blog (never mentioning the company or people she worked for). In the weeks that followed, she noticed her coworkers not being as inviting or friendly. Odd. Perhaps they had just become overly stressed or busy, she thought. She also expressed this oddity to me, and then on her blog a few days later. Lydia is very self-aware and aware of peoples’ and animals’ behaviours, so it’s not unusual for her to describe these observations verbally and in writing.

21 days after Lydia’s first blog post regarding her job (the one about feeling on-par with her coworkers), her boss told her she shouldn’t come back to work until they’re able to discuss the “issue”, then they would invite Lydia into the office for a discussion. A couple of days passed and the boss sent an SMS saying Lydia won’t be a good fit with the company and they want to protect their (longstanding) employees against discrimination or harassment — like family. (Although, wouldn’t Lydia also fall under that protection?) No chance to discuss the first (or second) blog post in person, nor on the phone. One-sided communication right there. Lydia responded in a kind and professional way albeit with huge disappointment on the way they handled the situation.

Should Lydia not have blogged about her life and job experience? Perhaps. But not discussing her job with me (and, as an extension, her blog) would be a robotic and miserable lifestyle. Plus, she never portrayed the company or the individuals working there in a negative way. Justine, Brian, and Kevin experienced very public controversies; Lydia did not. However, public or not, companies have a duty to protect their employees from discrimination and harassment. If they’re not willing to do that, then why should we support them outside of our job there?

At my new job, I’ve been very fortunate to have managers who encourage a family-like team. Some customers are great; some are not. Through it all, the team at our store have each others’ backs. Yes, we’re huge advocates for the customer — everyone in America has experience with being a customer. It’s just those times when a customer has been through too much in a day and verbally releases their frustrations at an employee that the team will do whatever possible to keep the customer’s experience positive and expedite their shopping experience.

How are you communicating with your employees? Are they just a sales tool for you, or do you care about them?

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