Remember when Bill Clinton coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid” during his successful 1992 presidential campaign? Well, while the economy remains a centerpiece of this year’s political campaigns, I am ready to channel my inner-Seinfeld and add a new phrase to the pop culture lexicon: “It’s the relationships, stupid.”
Social media is a great thing. Technology is a great thing. 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. And, we have seen many instances in 2011 where employers have been told to toe the fine lines and manage the interplay between social media and employee relations.
For example, 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 rights. And, disciplining your employees for disparaging statements, online conduct, or disclosure of confidential information, while ensuring you don’t infringe on protected concerted activity. The rules and opinions will continue to evolve, and most likely repeatedly change, as we move to 2012 and beyond.
But 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 the relationships, stupid. I’ve often said that the definition of a “plaintiff” is a “pissed-off employee”. The more you communicate with your employees, 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 takeaway from 2011? 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 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 BlackBerry and smart phones, get to that e-mail or text in a little while, and keep the terrific picture and status update we were about to post 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 in 2012.
I wish you and your families a very healthy, happy and successful New Year.