This week I want to share the experience that a Cooperative Action Intervention client recently had to contend with involving two embattled employees who decided to make social media the battleground of choice for their dispute.
With the permission of the client, I have inserted the email initially received from the employees' manager explaining the problem.
DEAR 2% FACTOR,
"I have been a manager for [my company] for over 15 years and have had to deal with a lot of different and difficult employee problems in that time. I have disciplined people, fired people, and even had one arrested. When my guys (both men and women) screw up, I have no problem stepping in to solve the problem. However, right now I am experiencing something that I haven't faced before. Two of my staff don't get along. This is widely known in the office but as long as it didn't impede their work or cause a stir I let them be. They are adults and I'm not their parent. About a year ago it got particularly bad and HR had me bring in a mediator to deal with the two of them. This took care of the visible disruption they were causing in the office, or so I thought. Turns out this was a big fat waste of budget dollars.
It has been brought to my attention recently that things have gotten much worse between them again with both of them taking to their social media accounts rather than the office to carry on the fight. One of my staff who is friends with them on social media showed me what they were saying about each other and it goes way beyond a mild disagreement. The things I read were insulting, degrading, and offensive. I brought this to the attention to HR but was told that they weren't using company equipment to log on to social media and if they weren't doing it on work time there was little the company could do.
My concern is that this is going to continue to escalate and draw everyone else in the office into their fight. They are both "friends" on social media with most of the office and I can already see some of the office begin to polarize as a few of my other workers begin to take sides. What started out a small dispute between two staff is going to become a full blown war that affects the entire department and according to HR I can't do anything to stop it so long as the two employees initially involved continue to do their jobs. I need a second opinion. Can you help?"
THE COOPERATIVE ACTION INTERVENTION
Given that this manager's situation was, still, somewhat isolated in that it only involved a small number of employees rather than the whole department it was recommended that we carry out an Intervention.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with Cooperative Action Interventions, I will provide a very brief explanation.
Unlike the mediation process which is more of an exercise in civilized negotiation where a skilled mediator acts as a go-between between conflicting parties to hopefully arrive at a position of compromise, Interventions involve 2% Factor experts inserting themselves into the conflict for the purpose of neutralizing it at its core...the underlying dysfunction that exists between the conflicting parties.
While mediation tends to focus more on what each party wants out of the process, Interventions focus more on what each party is putting into the dysfunction...how and why they are contributing to the ongoing conflict.
Resolution comes from each party acknowledging the part they are playing in the conflict and agreeing to a code of conduct that addresses the needs of all involved allowing them to move past the conflict.
Upon initiating the Intervention and speaking with both employees it was learned that the conflict leading up to the inappropriate use of social media could be traced back three years to a single incident where the one worker believed the other stole a key account from him.
Rather than speaking directly, respectfully, and honestly to the second worker, the first developed some wild assumptions about how his coworker ended up with the account he had wanted. (In truth it was because the customer requested the second employee handle the account upon the recommendation of a common acquaintance they shared through a local community group.)
This ultimately resulted in the first worker resenting the second, which became apparent in how the first treated the second in the workplace.
The second worker, again instead of speaking directly respectfully and honestly to the first to find out why he was being treated poorly, made the subsequent assumptions that the first was a bulling jerk which conveniently explained his behaviour.
The conflict between these two employees had experienced frequent flare ups since the initiating incident with each flare up being greater in magnitude than the previous.
Fast forward to the present. The current flare up had resulted in both employees engaging in what was essentially a smear campaign to damage the other person and garner the support of others in the office to their side. This needed to end before it was too late and termination was the only option.
Following the key Intervention rules that (a) no blame would be set on any individual for the conflict, and (b) there would be no repercussions for anything said, both employees spoke freely (and calmly) about their perceptions of how their relationship had broken down.
With new information coming to light pulling back the shadows their assumptions had cast, both employees acknowledged they played a part in how things had deteriorated between them.
Once this occurred the immediate problem of the use of social media was addressed. Although the company had no formal policy regarding the use of social media to discuss the company or any of its representatives it was made clear to these two employees that by taking their actions to social media they:
- negatively portrayed their coworker (and indirectly their employer) to everyone connected to them via social media;
- were engaging in online gossiping for the sole purpose of damaging the reputation of each other;
- were negatively influencing how all of their other coworkers viewed them;
- were causing an increasing division in their department through their gossiping and online insults;
- ran the risk of escalating the dispute further to the point where one or both employees (and possibly) the company would be held liable by the courts;
- potentially damaged the corporate brand by behaving contrary to clearly stated corporate values.
The Intervention process concluded with a code of conduct being created for the two employees.
Signed by both, it stipulated how they agreed to behave towards each other both in and outside of the work environment moving forward. Unlike our standard codes of conduct, this one included statements regarding the use of social media, whether for professional or personal use.
This particular code of conduct stated (in summary):
- Neither employee could knowingly behave in a way that would result in other being harmed personally or professionally, verbally, non-verbally, or in writing (including electronic mediums such as social media).
- If either employee was approached by a colleague or other third party, whether they were directly or indirectly involved in the dispute, it was the responsibility of the employee approached to inform them that the dispute had been resolved and that third party should make no further attempts to become involved, gossip, or perpetuate the conflict in any way.
- If and when either employee suspected the other employee engaging in a behaviour that was contrary to this code of conduct, the suspecting employee would (a) first approach the other and, speaking directly, respectfully, and honestly, ask the other employee if their suspicions were valid; and (b) if it was learned that the other employee was, in fact, acting contrary to the code of conduct, the employee would bring the facts to their manager to handle.
- Neither employee would engage in activities that could be considered retribution for what the other did.
After this code of conduct was agreed upon by both employees, and with their permission, an announcement was made to the other employees in the department.
It was publicized that the dispute had been effectively resolved, a code of conduct was in place that had been agreed upon by both employees, and that any future attempts to "stir the pot" by anyone in the workplace not directly involved (which was anyone other than the two employees who signed the code of conduct) would be dealt with via progressive discipline.
While specifics of the agreement were kept confidential (not so much for legal reasons but more because it is wasn't anyone else's business) this important announcement was made to the rest of the office to close the loop and prevent others from saying or doing things that could re-light the fires of conflict.
Too often employees take to social media to air dirty laundry about their jobs, coworkers, managers, or employers. While some justify this because their social media accounts are personal property and they aren't doing it at work, it is important to realize that conflicts carried out via social media between coworkers cause significant detrimental effects on their workplaces, perhaps more so than if their dispute was aired in person in their workplace.
Further, without any mitigating force overseeing what is and is not posted on social media outlets, disputes can quickly turn into all out wars causing irreparable damage to everyone directly and indirectly involved.
Cooperative Action Interventions are an incredibly effective means of resolving broken or dysfunctional employee relationships at the source of the breakdown. For more information, click the button below.