Today's workplace is a potential landmine for communications disasters, which can lead to big problems for business owners. Two primary reasons are generational challenges and technology challenges.
For the first time in history, we have 5 generations working alongside of one another, with employees ranging from their early 20's to their 70's or older. It's not surprising that employees have conflicting communications expectations and behaviors.
Anne Loehr, Founder & CEO of Engage Every Age, contrasts the Millennials (born 1981-2001), Generation Xers (born 1965-1980), and Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964).
Technology challenges that create a Pandora's box of headaches for business leaders include:
- Mobility. Everyone is online everywhere, on their own devices.
- Consumerization of technology. Technologies that were once reserved for consumers are now proliferating the workplace which presents learning & security challenges, and creates generational divides.
- Increasingly complex social media landscape. Companies need a full time social media team to understand and have a presence on all of the required platforms, and to use them strategically for growth & brand awareness.
- Transparency of communications, with no filters. Anyone can say anything positive or negative anytime, anywhere; we are in the Yelp age of feedback.
A major pitfall of these challenges is that the Rules of Engagement regarding online office communication are still being written.
Simply hoping that employees will use good judgment when communicating digitally and online exposes the company to potential liabilities and lawsuits.
According to global law firm Proskauer, companies are taking a stand against online communications misuse.
· 70% of businesses report disciplinary action against social media misuse in the workplace.
· 36% of employers actively block access to social media sites, compared to 29% surveyed last year.
· 43% of businesses permit employees to access social media sites, a fall of 10% since Proskauer's 2011 survey.
Especially as Millennials enter the workforce, organizations must take a proactive approach to education and risk mitigation. Millennials hold very different opinions on the importance of online privacy. While their approaches may work socially, they don't work professionally.
I've compiled the essential Rules of Engagement regarding texting, emailing, and social media use.
Essential Rules for Emailing at Work
- Keep it professional & consistent. All communication represents the brand.
- Use correct grammar & punctuation. No emojis or all CAPS in business correspondence, and remember to spell-check. Remember that what you email represents the organization.
- Make your subject line clear & concise. The average corporate executive receives 200 emails a day.
- Mirror the tone and punctuation that the other party uses. This is known as "communications alignment" or "communications synergy."
- Include a call to action, or clearly articulate what you expect. What is your intention with the email and is that clear?
- Conclude with a professional sign-off, preferably a company-wide standard signature. It's not a text. This applies to emails sent from a mobile device as well. "Excuse me, my thumbs are still learning to type" doesn't count.
Essential Rules for Texting at Work
- Follow your boss's lead. Do they text at work?
- Ask permission to text. A phone number doesn't grant you permission.
- If you do text, tell the party your name. They may not recognize your number.
- Don't text during meetings & presentations.
- Keep it brief and professional. Remember that what you text represents the organization.
- Abbreviate judiciously & spell correctly.
- Don't send out bad news.
- Reply promptly, with no emoticons.
Essential Rules for Using Social Media Platforms at Work
- Set your permissions to restrict anonymous stalking.
- Think twice before posting photos of yourself.
- Tread lightly with polarizing topics such as sex, religion, & politics.
- Be aware that anything you post about your company or a co-worker can go viral and will likely get back to the leadership team.
- Remember that you are under NDA/Confidentiality online & offline. Do not post proprietary information.
- Ask permission before you post a photo of a colleague.
- Assume that competitors are monitoring what you post.
- Trademark/copyright any company-owned information before posting.
Establishing firm policies regarding online and offline communication has never been more important. Employees must understand that all company communications represent the brand, and can expose a company to risk.
Heading Off Potential Problems
According to Proksauer, here are the top 5 things businesses can do to prevent problems:
1. Conduct annual audits
2. Make training a priority
3. Identify specific risks
4. Implement clear guidelines so everyone knows what is expected
5. Mitigate potential damage from ex-employees
Leaders have an opportunity to mitigate risk, establish policies that protect the company, and create a culture of positive communication, trust, & collaboration in which everyone is committed to excellence.