Employees not only demand higher wages, better conditions and the right to work from home, but also increasingly go public with complaints at work.
Here are the best strategies for dealing with employees who speak up – and why they don’t work.
1. Destroy them
Facebook’s approach to criticism from its former product manager, Frances Haugen, was to describe her as a junior and ignoramus – “worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct subordinates, never attended a decision-making meeting with C-level executives – and Tested more than six times for not having worked on the subject in question ”.
Attorneys who defended Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in her fraud case described themselves as the “incompetent” whistleblower Adam Rosendorff, who was laboratory manager at the start-up for blood tests before leaving and claimed that the company was a fraud.
However, the term used for more than 100 years is “upset”. That was Donald Trump’s sentence last month for his former press secretary Stephanie Grisham after writing a comprehensive book. It has been used by hundreds of companies over the years to camouflage critics, including the family offices of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
The weakness is that it’s a statement of the obvious. They are obviously upset or they wouldn’t complain! That doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Any ad hominem approach is likely to fail because it does not address the issues raised by the unfortunate former employee.
2. Do not set it in the first place
This is the innovative idea of Coinbase boss Brian Armstrong. Concerned by the critical media coverage of top tech companies, Armstrong suggested this week to only hire “independent thinkers isolated from biased third parties who write their thoughts.”
It is unclear how independent Armstrong really wants this thinking. A year ago he banned political discussions in the workplace and one of 20 employees at the cryptocurrency company quit. Isolated is the more operative word.
However, this risks creating an echo chamber; A wider range of votes would have prevented Coinbase’s misguided attempt to fight the Securities and Exchange Commission. And as a company grows, its ability to maintain the common faith inevitably weakens.
3. Silence them
For years, the preferred way of dealing with serious complaints has been a (preferably small) wad of cash and a watertight nondisclosure agreement. This solution is on the rise.
Former Pinterest public order worker Ifeoma Ozoma resigned from the social media company last year and went public on allegations of racial discrimination. After breaking her own nondisclosure agreement, she campaigned to prevent victims of harassment and discrimination from being gagged. California made this protection law on Thursday. Similar laws are being proposed in Ireland, another key location for the world’s largest technology companies. “We’re seeing an increase in this desire for transparency,” said Richard Reise, a New York-based employment lawyer.
This goes beyond serious allegations of harassment and discrimination. More and more people feel justified in expressing criticism of their previous job, although Reice emphasizes, “One of the things that makes that possible is that you have a group of employees who can afford to take this position.” It is not for nothing that many high-profile examples come from the well-paid tech industry.
In view of the failure of the existing strategies, companies can only recognize misconduct where it exists and defend against them with facts when this is not the case. To reduce the likelihood of data leaks, they also need to tighten access to data, an ironic finding for tech companies based on the idea that information wants to be free.