The recent shooting of Cecil the Lion by US dentist Walter Palmer has seen worldwide outcry. As well as kick-starting a debate about the rights and wrongs of big game hunting it has brought into sharp focus the reputational damage that can be inflicted on those involved in media storms. How well do you know what your team do when they are not at work? Is it something you should take seriously? Is it something you can control?
The dentist who shot Cecil had to go into hiding due to the level of hysteria around him. His dental practice has closed and, according to some reports, he has even had to employ security guards (after first having employed a PR firm to help with his media statements).
From the moment the story broke, opponents of Palmer’s actions used all methods available to vent their anger. As well as wall-to-wall broadcast media coverage around the world, attacks were being made online and on social media. Palmer’s dental practice website was targeted and forced to close and his Twitter and Facebook accounts suffered repeated attacks. This all happened very quickly.
Lessons to learn
There are lessons for all organisations about what they really know about their own staff and how much they should know. You can be certain, however, that if one of your team is involved in something likely to evoke a similar response then there may be a similar level of attack on your organisation too.
It is always best to plan for such events but better still to have steps in place to prevent it. A crisis plan should always factor in the risk of staff actions as well as those related to the product or service delivered.
Employees will often have written into their contracts clauses that prevent them from leaking sensitive and confidential information, taking valuable clients with them when they move on and against bringing the organisation into disrepute. But what about controlling employees’ outside interests and activities too?
Balancing work life and private life
All employees have the right to a private life, but if their private life conflicts with their working life and their actions or comments receive media (or social media) interest, then it becomes integral to the operation of the organisation. The more senior an employee is, or the higher their public profile, the greater the risk becomes as they are intrinsically associated with the organisation.
In such instance, pastimes may conflict with an organisation’s stance on certain issues, relationships it has with third parties or with its own employment and Corporate Social Responsibility policies. There is nothing wrong with asking employees about their hobbies and interests, so long as that doesn’t relate to or interfere with a protected characteristic, namely race, age, religious or philosophical belief, sexual orientation, sex or disability.
The prolific nature of social media and blogging means that it is impossible to capture every opinion or view shared by your employees. In which case, it is all the more important to nurture an environment which is self-policing and where employees can approach you with concerns about their colleagues. Further action might not always be necessary, but swift and fair investigation is essential.
Do you know if senior executives or prominent employees have pastimes that might bring reputational damage on your organisation?
In reality, organisations should plan for the worst-case scenario, carefully balancing the rights of employees against the best interests of the organisation.
This blog post was written with Stuart Thomson, Public Affairs specialist and Huffington Post blogger
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