It is this time every year, as I am wrapping things up over at “social media and employment law blog” central, – and particularly in this latest political election year – that I am reminded of that election campaign more than twenty years ago when Bill Clinton coined the phrase: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Well, the economy is still trying to sprout, and Clinton’s message still resonates in my mind as I reach the end of another year. Just as I came back to it at the end of last year: “It’s still the relationships, stupid.”
Social media and technology continue to be great things. Both have revolutionized our lives in ways never before imagined, and, at the same time, have dramatically impacted the relations between employer and employee to an extent that will never go away. Employees are using wearable technology in the workplace, and “selfie” has even been added to our dictionary. We have continued to discuss and dissect many instances in 2016 where employers have been told to toe the fine lines and manage the interplay between social media and employee relations.
For example, making sure your company crafts the narrowly-tailored social media policy that protects your legitimate business interests, while at the same time avoiding the overbroad and undefined terms that may chill your employees from engaging in protected concerted activity. Reaping the benefits of the World Wide Web as a source of information on applicants, but making sure you don’t learn “too much information.” Maintaining your right to monitor what goes on in your workplace and on your working time, but being mindful of your employees’ privacy and off-duty rights. And, understanding how compliance with traditional laws such as wage and hour requirements can be increasingly difficult with employee use of social media and technology. The rules and opinions, and the prognosticator do’s and don’ts, will continue to evolve, and most likely repeatedly change, as we dart past another New Year’s Eve later next week.
But I guess my point at the end of this year too, ironically enough, is to stop reading electronic posts like this for a minute, get your face out of your smartphone or monitor, don’t worry about capturing your hundredth selfie (that same afternoon), and simply look up to talk to someone. Anyone. Let’s turn off the technology for a moment, and ask why your company is (and will be) ultimately successful. Let’s also ask why your company may be able to successfully avoid legal pitfalls and litigation. The answer: It’s still the relationships, stupid.
I will always maintain that the definition of a “plaintiff” in a lawsuit is a “pissed-off employee.” The more you communicate with your employees, the more you walk and talk the hallways, and the more your relationships with your employees are valued within the bounds of existing law, the more successful your business will be and the more likely it is that you can avoid employment disputes. Valuing, being responsive to, and maintaining your inter-personal relationships with your employees, customers, clients, vendors, and business partners will still prove to be the most important precursor to a successful bottom line.
Employer Take Away: So, what is the final takeaway from 2016? What should you as an employer take away from this development? The rapid explosion of social media, and its impact on the workplace, will never take away from the value of true inter-personal relationships. As great as today’s advances are, it doesn’t always have to be about apps, status updates, and mass communication from behind a keyboard. It also doesn’t mean that we need to give into technology at the expense of our interpersonal relationships, and the face-to-face communications that still must take place.
Individually, we are no different than we are professionally. We spend so much time connecting to someone who is not in front of us, that it’s easy to ignore what is right in front of us. We are so worried about tomorrow and next week, that the happy, meaningful and productive parts of today go unnoticed. We are so obsessed with typing to the world in words and pictures about where we are and what we’re doing, that we’re not at all focused on precisely where we are, what we’re doing, and who we’re doing it with. To me, we are successful – professionally and individually – through the relationships right in front of us.
So maybe for this holiday season, we can find even an hour to put down the iPhone and BlackBerry (they still exist?), get to that e-mail or text in a little while, and keep the terrific picture we were about to post solely in our own heads for now. Enjoy the moment right in front of us, as it will always be about those relationships, stupid.
I greatly appreciate the time you have taken to read my blog this year, and I hope that I have provided you with some useful, informative, and perhaps occasionally entertaining insights on the interaction between social media and employment law. I look forward to continuing that effort for you in 2017. I wish you and your families a very healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.