Social media empowers employees; keeps employers wary

Last week, a former employee of Tech Mahindra, Gaurav Pramanik posted a tweet bringing to light the homophobic and communally-biased ways of his former boss. Mahindra Group’s executive chairman, Anand Mahindra was quick to react on this. Not every corporate leader is as social media savvy as Mahindra. Next, it becomes the responsibility of HR to handle such critical situations. Here is how senior HR leaders suggest organisations should learn to deal with this.

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Of all the things you may miss in a world without social media, what you will probably miss most is a voice! Since its advent to where we find ourselves today embracing the concept, what we can claim to have distinctly gained is a platform to voice out and be heard. Everybody has opinions. What we lacked all this while is an audience to them. Not happy with your administration? Voice it out. Got a problem with your mobile phone service? One tweet and the world knows including your service provider who might get to addressing your issue quicker than ever before.

In this age of such instant exchange of communication, are we being responsible with this privilege? While the answer to it may be subjective, one cannot deny how empowered social media has made us.

At the workplace, there were times when grievances were more often than not, just bitter pills to be swallowed. Not anymore. Most certainly, HR processes are much more refined to address employee issues but with social media at an employee’s disposal, managements are more alert than ever.

Gaurav Pramanik posted a tweet bringing to light the homophobic and communally-biased ways of his former boss. It didn’t take long Anand Mahindra, Mahindra Group’s executive chairman to react. Pramanik’s tweet was posted last Sunday and by Tuesday, the company and Anand Mahindra acknowledged the severity of the situation and promised a thorough and fair investigation.

Take for instance what leading Indian IT company Tech Mahindra witnessed last week. Earlier this month, India witnessed history when the Supreme Court declared sex between consenting homosexual adults is no longer a crime under Section 377. Most part of the country’s population welcomed a move that will certainly be seen as a country finally coming of age and shedding a draconian idea. Amid the celebrations a tweet from a former employee of Tech Mahindra shook all.

Gaurav Pramanik posted a tweet bringing to light the homophobic and communally-biased ways of his former boss. It didn’t take long for Anand Mahindra, Mahindra Group’s executive chairman to react. Pramanik’s tweet was posted last Sunday and by Tuesday, the company and Anand Mahindra acknowledged the severity of the situation and promised a thorough and fair investigation.

SV Nathan

What was earlier within the four walls of the organisation,social media is putting it all out there, sans filters in many cases. Therefore, an organisation needs to respond very quickly. Everybody is waiting and watching to see how you will respond. Social media certainly has made people a lot more watchful. It has made organisations a lot more sensitive, as everyone is watching and your response speaks to your culture.

‘Hi Gaurav, This is indeed disturbing and completely against the ethos of our group that believes in the uniqueness of every individual. We will do a thorough investigation and take steps as necessary. Our team will be in touch with you,’ promised Tech Mahindra in a tweet.

‘I can categorically assure you that we celebrate diversity in our workplace. Our Code of Conduct is explicit on this subject. Fairness & dignity of the individual is enshrined in our core values. Tech M is investigating these allegations, and appropriate action will follow,’ added Anand Mahindra on the microblogging platform.

It ended with Tech Mahindra severing its association with the employee in question, a certain Richa Gautam. Calling a man ‘gay’ for crying or voicing Islamophobic thoughts out loud at the workplace cost her dear.

‘@gauravpramanik, arising out of an investigation carried out in the matter, the concerned employee has been separated from the employment of the company with immediate effect. At Tech Mahindra, we believe in diversity & inclusion & condemn discrimination of any kind in the workplace,’ the company tweeted.

It is ironical, of course that Gautam was the chief diversity and inclusion officer at the company. Pramanik who was a Tech Mahindra employee from 2012 to 2016 stands vindicated today and it is for obvious reasons that both he and Tech Mahindra are being lauded on social media. The former for standing up, and the latter for upholding the values of diversity and inclusion at the workplace.

What is noteworthy here is how Pramanik used social media to voice out and be heard, and how responsibly Tech Mahindra reacted to the situation turning what could have been a PR disaster to its advantage.

It is a bashing ground. If there is a review on Glassdoor saying XYZ is doing this or that, there are two ways the management can act on it. . It can decide to take the person in question to task, which is the easiest thing to do. But, if the management has any trust in its people, an inquiry-based solution has to be provided.

An empowered employee? Certainly. A responsible employer? Of course! Although, does this mean, an employer has to be walking on egg shells all the time? In all probability, no! Being objective is crucial, agree HR professionals.

Social media is one of the most powerful of all media that influence people. We are not just talking about people within the organisation but also outside, and therefore it assumes importance. What you have been doing traditionally has been within the four walls of your organisation and social media is putting it all out there, sans filters in many cases. Therefore, an organisation needs to respond very quickly. Everybody is waiting and watching to see how you will respond. Social media certainly has made people a lot more watchful. It has made organisations a lot more sensitive, as everyone is watching and your response speaks to your culture,” says SV Nathan, partner and chief talent officer, Deloitte India.

While Pramanik’s complaint proved to be a genuine one, there have been instances when social media has been turned to as a medium to settle scores. How does an organisation fight slander — false allegations, biased thoughts on work culture— on a medium that is so widespread?

Disgruntled ex-employees may have their bones to pick with an organization, and there are many platforms today to wash dirty linen in public. And this is reason enough for employers to be a little wary.

As an organisation, we must definitely be responsive to social media and objectively listen to what is being said. Just because something appears on social media, we should neither give a knee jerk reaction nor reject it completely. We should objectively review it the way we would have reviewed it had it come through any other channel, says Rattan Chugh, chief people officer, Times Internet.

Rattan Chugh

As an organisation, we must definitely be responsive to social media and objectively listen to what is being said. Just because something appears on social media, we should neither give a knee jerk reaction nor reject it completely. We should objectively review it the way we would have reviewed it had it come through any other channel.

Head of the HR function at one of the most successful digital companies in the country today, on conditions of anonymity admitted that being an online organisation, it becomes even more critical to manage its reputation on the internet. She and her team have their hands full with Glassdoor, for instance. It is a platform where people can post anonymous reviews of their current and/or former employers. Not surprisingly, you will find opinions, comments, complaints, and feedback (often negative) galore about organisations here.

It is a bashing ground. If there is a review on Glassdoor saying XYZ is doing this or that, there are two ways the management can act on it. . It can decide to take the person in question to task, which is the easiest thing to do. But, if the management has any trust in its people, an inquiry-based solution has to be provided, she says.

One has to respond intelligently and not get emotional about it. It has to be dealt with in a practical way. Mr. Mahindra personally took it up (referring to the Gaurav Pramanik case) and that made a huge difference. He put out a statement that he is equally involved and he will figure out what the truth is, she adds.

An organisation needs to be careful not to trigger reactions that are waiting to explode and at the same time, not panic either.

Disgruntled employees can misuse this medium. Then it is like somebody shooting wildly. You do not know whether it is right or wrong. All you know is that a shot has been fired. If it is found to be untrue, the retrieval is difficult. If it is a disgruntled employee, then an organisation will find it very difficult to cope with these things. Of course, if employees are treated well, the chances of such things happening is really low. Companies should be watchful and at the same time not be over-sensitised. Don’t be so fragile that everything that is put on social media gets you nervous. It could well be a disgruntled employee trying to get back at you, says Nathan.

What companies do realise is the benefit of keeping open channels for communication where there is ample room within the organisation for leaders and subordinates to exchange thoughts freely. Often that is half the battle won.

Times Internet’s Chugh says, We encourage people to engage through our various channels provided internally, and share more details so that we can follow through. Being a digital company, everybody has access to WhatsApp-like chat rooms where people can share their experiences, ideas and engage with the rest of the organisations. We have regular in-person forums, such as AMA (Ask Me Anything) with the CEO of the company, where employees from every level are invited on a regular basis. There are other focused group forums to engage people on specific aspects.

What Pramanik went through was traumatic. Kudos to him for daring to bring this up on a public platform and a round of applause for Anand Mahindra and Tech Mahindra for being extremely responsible with a very sensitive situation.

Having said that, the responsibility is huge with every social-media user. In the current times, when the slightest provocation can lead to severe repercussions, it is much advised to think twice before you leap with a tweet, a review or a status update and on the part of an employer, be reasonable and objective.

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