When and how must organizations intervene on personal matters that concern their staff? What if the issue is national and international news? How can internal communications help overcome unanswered questions?
The recent jailing of an Indian couple in Norway has opened up questions about ‘personal conduct’ and an organization’s oversight on their staffs’ personal lives. If the organization goes out of its way to help it will receive flak for supporting erring employees. If it remains passive it will get accused of being insensitive to the needs of their employees. In this case the stakes are higher with the government also tentative about intervening overtly.
The scripted reaction from the organization indicated that while they were willing to support the employee it was cautious about going overboard with their actions.
Here is the response from the organization concerned as quoted by the media:
“The court has given a verdict based on its assessment of the facts as they pertain to the case. This is very unfortunate for all concerned. We have provided help and necessary support to the employee to ensure due process and legal support. We hope that the family has the strength and resilience to get through these trying times”.
There is a lot to lose for any organization if their employees become liabilities and damage the brand. This specific case is turning into a PR concern with growing global interest in how the Indian government and the organization are responding to the crisis.
Especially when organizations (particularly in India) claim to treat their employees like ‘extended’ family members such situations test their ability to walk the talk.
Many organizations have code of conduct guidelines and trainings for their employees as well as cultural awareness initiatives to sensitize their staff on how to be effective brand ambassadors. There are many recent episodes where organizations have ‘gagged’ their staff from speaking to the media, talking about recent internal developments or posting anything on social media channels.
There are a lot of questions which need addressing with employees.
– What is the most recent update on the episode?
– What is the organization’s take?
– How is the organization supporting the employee and the family?
– What can we do to be more aware of a country’s laws?
– How can the organization educate employees on areas that go beyond the realm of professional work?
The last question is very relevant considering more and more Indian employees are connected with work beyond official hours due to the advent of social media. Also the growing use of social media is fast blurring the boundaries between personal and professional lives.
If an organization expects you to be ‘available’ beyond office hours isn’t it fair for an employee to also expect support for incidents that take place ‘outside of work’?
I am aware of many companies investing in employee assistance programs and educating parents on the importance of effective parenting. There are benefits such as flexi-working hours and crèches in-house that support parents to cope better. However, there are a lot of hurdles to get staff to attend or make time for such programs.
Such initiatives often have a ‘stigma’ attached to them. Employees believe they know it all and attending such programs means that they have a ‘problem’ and in turn can affect their perception among peers.
Here are a few internal communications recommendations to create an open environment that discusses the blurring of personal and professional boundaries.
– Build the case into the organization’s learning repository: There is nothing more powerful than accepting the issues which this case brings out and educating others.
– Talk about it while inducting new employees: Every new hire will appreciate the openness if this incident is discussed and clarified at the beginning of their career at the firm.
– Have your leaders be more approachable: Those who have travelled widely will have pearls of wisdom to share and it can enrich others in the organization.
– Reiterate the company’s position and employees’ responsibilities: Very often, discussions on the employment contract get relegated to the back-burner till such episodes occur. It is helpful to reframe what everyone is responsible for in protecting the brand and upholding personal and professional standards.
Have other thoughts?
Share them here. I am keen to hear from you.