What to do when an employee complains about you on social media

Woman at her computer looking sad

In January of this year, a Newfoundland woman made headlines after she was fired from her job over a Facebook tirade.

The newsprint mill worker attacked managers in a post on the social media site after what she viewed as a safety incident, in which she was asked to clean an area of the mill with spraying water and a piece of a papermaking machine arced. The CBC reported that she complained that she could have been electrocuted, while the company said she had not properly followed instructions.

The woman took to Facebook to post that she had “barely escaped death” and, naming two managers, accused them of thinking “it’s cheap…er to replace the employee than the equipment,” and proceeded to call them a variety of colourful things and suggest some violent scenarios to which she seemed to think they should be subject.

The company was understandably dismayed by the post and the 13-year employee was dismissed.

It’s not the first time someone has made the news for getting fired over a Facebook post. The best known is probably the woman who, in 2009, posted a rant about her boss.

Venting on social media is becoming more common, and it might not slow down anytime soon, particularly as millennials take over the workforce. These are people who grew up online and see little difference between public and private life. Everything happens on the world stage, or it didn’t happen. And they often have little understanding of the potential consequences.

You may well find yourself the target of such online vitriol – though hopefully a less poisonous version. And since this is a fairly new problem, it might be hard to know what to do. You might not want to jump straight to firing. So, I asked Piera Palazzolo, Executive Vice President of Marketing at Dale Carnegie Training, for some advice.

“You have to address this immediately,” she said. “Talk to the person as soon as possible.”

Palazzolo says you always want to start in a friendly way. The old “start with a compliment” approach.

“Point out what that person does well first. For example ‘We appreciate your work ethic, your ability to get projects completed on time and really want to commend you for what you do. However it has come to my attention that you have some issues and that you’re not happy about certain things, and that you’ve shared this publicly on social media. Let’s talk about that a little bit.’ Get the person talking.

“Clearly there’s an issue there and the person feels that they can’t come to you,” Palazzolo says. “It could be a cry for help.”

Rather than scold, she suggests you “Try to find out what’s at the core of the issue. Is it that they don’t feel appreciated or that they can come to you with problems? What was it that drove them to say that? How can you fix that? How can you work together as a team?”

Interestingly, she also suggests you send a “Thank You” note afterwards. Yes, really.

“Once you’ve talked to the person, I would send them a nice note in writing. Say ‘Thank you for coming to see me. I appreciate your willingness to discuss this with me.’ I think the art of the ‘Thank You’ note still goes a long way in making people feel appreciated.”

This is assuming you want the person to keep working for you and that it’s a first offense.

“If it’s a repeated behaviour then you have a situation where you have to wonder if that employee is worth keeping.”

Companies can keep this from happening in the first place by setting clear guidelines for employees. Don’t assume they already know better.

Palazzolo says, “Companies need to establish clear guideline and issue them in writing.”

The reality is that it’s up to you as a supervisor to make sure you have a good relationship with the people who work for you.

Palazzolo says, “It’s really the role of the supervisor to be creating the type of engagement that keeps this from happening.”

So, the truth is that if someone is venting about you, you might be the one who isn’t doing your job.


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