“It surprises me that we still have to have this conversation”

by Nicola Middlemiss05 Jan 2018
A senior leadership coach is urging HR professionals to hammer home their digital communication policies, saying many employees still don’t understand appropriate workplace boundaries.

“It surprises me that we still have to have this conversation but people still don’t understand the things they can and can’t engage in in the digital world in the workplace,” says Karen Gately, an acclaimed HR advisor.

“Some of the disrespectful, inappropriate stuff I see in email and online sharing of information is quite staggering and I can’t believe people still are not educated,” she continues.

While Gately is calling on HR professionals to clamp down on offensive online communication, she also says its vital employers don’t become too overbearing.

“HR needs to be careful not to be the fun police because that undermines our credibility and holds us back from engaging with our stakeholders,” she tells HRD.

“We need to educate people about the rules of engagement from a respect and decency perspective and we need to help leaders understand where the line is between having fun and a bit of banter because it’s all too easy to step across that line into bullying and inappropriate behaviour.”

Earlier this year, a junior banker was fired for sending “inappropriate messages” via Tinder – while the app was downloaded onto his personal phone, his employer had reportedly been paying the bill.

A senior exec with communication giant AT&T was also burned as a result of inappropriate digital communication back in 2015. Aaron Slator, who was president of content and advertising sales for AT&T, was dismissed after his executive assistant discovered a racist text message on his phone.

Gately – who was formerly the HRD for Vanguard Group, Asia Pacific – says leaders should be encouraging their employees to ask themselves one very important question before sending something which could be considered inappropriate.

“The measure of what we find unacceptable is different for each of us but employees should be asking themselves if they would be comfortable having this held up and exposed to the world,” she tells HRD.

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